Costs to insure workers mulled

BROOKLINE – Selectmen said they have a tough nut to crack before ringing in the New Year. Board members spent the bulk of their Monday night meeting considering how best to deal with the increasing cost of health care for town employees.

The town covers 100 percent of health insurance costs for its employees, regardless of whether they are individual employees or employees with a family. The town also covers the cost of dental insurance for individual employees, but not for the employees’ families.

The town, however, faces an 11 percent increase in insurance rates next year based on its current enrollment. If any town employees elect not to participate in a health plan or leave the town payroll, the rates could increase even more.

Selectmen said they take issue with the fact that the town pays more taxpayer money toward benefits for an employee with a family than for one without a family.

Using data from the town’s Pay and Classification Study, selectmen estimate they would save about $38,000 a year if the town covered individual employees only and not their families. Selectmen said many towns in New Hampshire, including Hollis, practice that coverage plan.

On the one hand, selectmen’s Chairwoman Linda Saari said, covering employees and their families at 100 percent “is another way to keep people here” and “what we save, the employee has to pay.” Either way, the board has to adopt a plan before finalizing pay and benefit rates for next year.

Another factor for the selectmen to consider is the open enrollment period for the town’s insurance plans. Town employees may make changes in their health insurance coverage only during January of each year. Saari said the sooner employees have information about a potential change in coverage, the better.

Two of the alternatives that board members are considering include:

n Adopting a plan similar to the one Hollis has and offering to pay 100 percent of the health insurance of the individual employee only. The employee would then cover the difference between the cost of his or her coverage and the price of desired additional coverage.

n Instituting a flat, across-the-board pay increase for town employees, whether they are single, parents or choose to carry outside health insurance. Rather than paying for an employee’s insurance, the town would deduct a weekly premium from the employee’s paycheck, based on the amount of coverage he or she chose.

Under this choice, every employee would get the same raise. However, a person with a family would have more deducted from his or her check for insurance than a person with no children. That means that every employee would cost the town the same amount and that would translate into an equal rate of benefits for every employee.

The board plans to revisit the topic at its Dec. 8 meeting.