County addresses retiree complaint

BALDWIN — Lake County has officially changed a portion of its policies regarding retiring county employees. This was done to address an issue which was first raised several months ago by a number of county employees who believed the retirement policies to be unfair.

The issue stems from wording in both the the county's union contracts and its non-union personnel policy which both read, "the county will pay the single subscriber rate for retiree health insurance." Non-union retirees have to pay for any increases in subsequent years, while union retirees do not.

"So the single subscriber rate for non-unions, in the year they retire, is essentially the maximum amount the county will contribute towards their retiree health insurance costs going forward," said county administrator Tobi Lake. "The assumption is health insurance rates will increase and the retiree has to pay for any increases over the single subscriber rate for that first year."

However, beginning in 2009, the county switched to a high deductible health insurance plan which meant a lower monthly premium. As part of the new, lower premium health insurance, the county coupled it with a Health Reimbursement Account to make the deductibles and copays of new insurance comparable to the old plan. However, also at that time, administratively, the county determined that the single subscriber rate did not include the costs associated with the HRA for non-union retirees. To the ire of some county employees, it did include the costs for union retirees, even though the language was identical. This caused friction among several retiring or soon-to-retire county employees as they thought it was a double standard.

"Essentially the county was limiting the amount it would contribute towards the monthly premium for non-union retiree health insurance by not including the costs of the HRA in the determination of the single subscriber rate, while at the same time including the HRA in the determination for union retirees," explained Lake.

Retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year, the county will be adjusting the amounts that non-union retirees have to pay for their insurance, a measure Lake believes will alleviate the problem. These changes will affect employees who have retired as far back as 2009.

"I am pleased the county is able to correct an error which happened more than seven years ago, regarding the pre-65 health insurance for county retirees" remarked Lake. "On behalf of the county, I want to apologize to those retirees. It was an error that was allowed to continue for too long."