County health care $2 million over budget

By DEREK DANNEKER

ddanneker@sungazette.com

Lycoming County employee healthcare expenditures are running 19 percent over budget, commissioners said Tuesday, equating to about $2 million.

The healthcare line-item was not “bare-bones” either, said Commissioner Rick Mirabito. The board took the advice of their financial advisers last year to add an additional 10 percent onto the budgeted amount, eventually finalizing $10 million in expected healthcare costs.

The issue is two-fold — healthcare is expensive and there are too many public employees, said Mirabito.

“I had proposed in 2017 that we eliminate 20 positions through attrition,” he said. “What I’m trying to have us avoid doing is getting into a crisis where we have to lay people off as opposed to doing it through attrition because then you’re disrupting people’s lives.”

Much of the motivation for reducing the size of government through attrition came from the employees themselves, who reported in exit interviews that they were bored or recommended their position be eliminated upon their retirement, he said.

In the past years, however, the commissioners have gotten used to signing their letter of assent to county hirings during their weekly human resources meetings, he added. The elected officials then officially vote during the public meetings.

“We weren’t really creating an incentive or an atmosphere where people would feel the need to reevaluate how the work is done and feel some pressure to do it,” said Mirabito.

The closed-door meetings with HR are relatively new. The discussions never happened before 2011, and commissioners never signed any letters of intent before 2016, Mirabito claimed. Far from making hard decisions at these meetings, the commissioners routinely sign for all the hirings, he said.

“I want to start thinking more critically about these positions and have a more open discussion and dialogue with the public about these,” said Mirabito.

Commissioner Tony Mussare, who began the commissioner’s comment session confirming the legality of HR meetings with the Solicitor J. David Smith, said in terms of rising healthcare costs, county employees must take their medicine and get check-ups.

In the first five days after people are discharged from the hospital, some don’t take their medicine and return soon after leaving, said Mussare.

“As silly as this sounds, it’s a problem. And yesterday when I heard how many of our employees don’t do it — it makes me angry,” he said

Lycoming County provides good healthcare compared to others, “If they’re going to take advantage of it or misuse it, I can tell you this — it will change,” he added.

Commissioner Jack McKernan was absent.

The next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday in the commissioners’ briefing room in Executive Plaza, 330 Pine St.

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