Employees of Douglas County will not have to pay a higher percentage of their health insurance premiums when the new plan year starts June 1.
County commissioners on Wednesday agreed to keep the contribution rates for both the county and its employees the same for the 2013-14 plan year, which means county employees will continue to enjoy more generous health benefits than many other workers in the region.
"I want to keep it that way," Commissioner Jim Flory, a Republican, said. "If there's an overall rate increase, employees may have to share in that. But I want to keep the ratio competitive."
County employees currently pay 7 percent of the premium for individual coverage, and 18 percent of the premium for family coverage. The county pays the balance of the premiums.
That compares to 16 percent of premiums paid by most government sector workers in the U.S., and 23 percent paid by employees in groups of 500 to 999 employees, according to a recent national survey by the consulting firm Mercer.
For Douglas County employees, the split works out to an average of $42 per month for single coverage, and $291 per month for family plans.
Douglas County expects to pay out almost $6 million in medical claims for its employees and their families in the current plan year. Next year, officials expect that to drop to about $5.6 million.
Commission Chairman Mike Gaughan said the health benefits partially offset the relatively low wages paid for some county jobs.
"We know that our starting salaries are very low and we have some challenges on the low end of our pay scale," said Gaughan, a Democrat.
Assistant County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said one thing that may need to change in future years is pharmaceutical coverage. She said that's because of the rising cost of certain specialty drugs, like those used to treat chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis, HIV and rheumatoid arthritis.
"Thirty percent of what we spend goes to 11 people," Plinsky said. "There are medications that cost $2,000 a month, and their copay is $35."
One of the options the county may consider in future years is to raise the copay for certain classes of medications. "That's a way to not punitively hit everyone," Plinsky said.
In other business, commissioners approved traffic restrictions on certain township roads near Baldwin City due to increased traffic resulting from the temporary closure of a section of U.S. Highway 56.
The Kansas Department of Transportation has closed a 2.5-mile stretch of the highway to replace three bridges and improve an intersection in Baldwin City. That is forcing local traffic onto gravel township roads that are not designed for large volumes of traffic.
The restrictions include posting 30 mile per hour speed limit signs and prohibiting commercial vehicles on those roads. The county will also pay for dust treatments on those roads, with the anticipation that the state will reimburse the county for that cost.