Health care costs for the city of Williamsport's employees are estimated to increase next year by as much as $484,000, two health care cooperative representatives said at Thursday night's City Council meeting.
The 11.1-percent increase is considered to be one of the contributing factors to the city possibly having to introduce a real estate tax increase.
Council Vice President Jonathan Williamson noted the city's insurance administrator, Benecon, has given plentiful guidance on how to affect the bottom line and has been a good choice, given the previous path of much higher cost.
"It is sad to say, when negotiating with many unions, they want the status quo," Williamson said. "In their place ... I would, too."
While Williamson said he could understand the unions' positions, he said their decisions probably will add to taxpayers having to "share in the pain."
City fire and police unions, for instance, have their members contribute to their pension funds but receive health care for retirees and their spouses for life, according to information from city human resources.
Negotiations between Benecon and the five unions are continuing until the preliminary budget is presented to council in mid-November.
"It may go down further as we get into 2013," Council President Bill Hall said.
Hall said he has seen worse, such as 18- to 19-percent increases while on council.
A number of the claims this year were expensive, with some people suffering serious illnesses such as cancer and heart ailments, according to city finance committee reports and Benecon representatives.
The city had 11 claims of more than $25,000 in the first two months, said Kathy Cook, a Benecon representative. Among the most prevalent illnesses by claimants was back pain, she said.
Cook said Benecon plans to work with the human resources department to develop wellness plans, working with the local YMCA and a smoking cessation program that are covered by insurance.
Cook said the city supports about 700 people on its health plans and, in some cases, covers spouses and children, too.