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County workers dispute health care cost increase

By Catherine Hawley, Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 09 2013 09:03:06 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 10 2013 09:14:36 AM CDT

Workers in Northampton County are outraged about health insurance increases they just found out about.

EASTON, Pa. -

Workers in Northampton County are outraged about health insurance increases they just found out about.

They told 69 News their out-of-pocket deductibles are going up about 900 percent. The county employees want action before it's too late, while officials said their hands are tied by federal law.

"This is a slap in the face to everybody who works in this county whether union or non union," said Justus James, a representative for AFSCME.

County workers piled into the council budget meeting, ready to fight back against planned increases to their health care plans.

"For a lot of the county employees, this amounts to 10 percent or more of their net salary," shared Stephen Barron, the Northampton County controller. "They can't afford this co-insurance."

Workers said they were just told out-of-pocket deductibles will jump from $250 for a single person to $2,250. For a family, it spikes from $500 to nearly $5,000. They argue they take less pay for better benefits, but were blindsided by these huge increases.

"We're getting it jammed down our throats in the 11th hour," James told council. "I want council to do something about it, investigate it and stop it."

Northampton County Executive John Stoffa said the price hikes are thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

"We have to start increasing what people have to pay for their health care because we have what is called the Cadillac plan."

Under the law, so-called "Cadillac plans" could be taxed a 40 percent levy just for being generous on health insurance. The government won't start taxing employers until 2018, but the county is trying to stay ahead of the huge hit they face in five years by adding the fee incrementally.

"Because it's so new, people don't understand it and it's a little scary," added Stoffa. "But if it's something we have to do, we have to do it, if there's something we can work out in a better way, we will do it, if there's more we can do for the employees we will do it."

At the meeting, the county human resources department asked for a new full-time employee to be hired just to deal with all the mandates under the Affordable Care Act.