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VOL. 129 | NO. 147 | Wednesday, July 30, 2014

City Union Floats Alternative Health Care Plan as City Outlines Trust Fund

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members will at least discuss an alternative health insurance plan next month.

The high deductible plan, which restores many of the coverage cuts approved in June by the council, is the proposal of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association.

Union secretary-treasurer Matthew Tomek told a city health care oversight committee Tuesday, July 29, that the proposal would save the city $25 million.

The proposal will be heard by council members in committee sessions either Sept. 2 or Sept. 16, said oversight committee chairman and council member Edmund Ford Jr. The oversight committee includes city division directors as well as leaders of the municipal unions representing city workers and leaders of the Association of City Retired Employees.

As the union presented its alternative Tuesday, July 29, the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. fleshed out its safety net fund for those city retirees and employees who fall between the cracks on coverage in the transition to the health care coverage cuts later this year.

What city human resources director Quintin Robinson called a “trust fund” is part of what the administration bills as its “healthcare assurance plan.”

The trust fund would accept contributions and already has commitments of up to $1 million as needed from Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, $500,000 from Cigna health care, and a similar pledge from St. Francis Hospital. Robinson said Baptist Memorial Healthcare and Regional One Medical Center have pledged support “within the scope of services they offer.” A coalition of St. Francis, Baptist and Blue Cross Blue Shield have offered “navigators” to help pre-65 city retirees enroll in health care coverage through the federal government’s health care exchange.

The plan also includes access for all city employees and retirees to a free health care clinic the city plans to open in Midtown.

The administration also announced plans Tuesday to outsource the management of health care, dental, vision and prescription drugs programs with four separate requests for proposals to come.

City chief administrative officer George Little said the city would review the union plan with its actuary. But he warned that any alternative would have to accomplish several goals beyond reining in the city’s health care costs, including contribute to the city’s unfunded pension liability. And Little said any changes could not reopen the city’s budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

The council is scheduled to vote in October on city pension changes proposed by Wharton.

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