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Salt Lake County revises, then OKs health care plan

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County Council made two major changes to the new employee health care plan before approving it Tuesday.

County employees will pay 5 percent more for health care this year, instead of the proposed 13 percent increase. In addition, the council voted to keep the "swing" option that allows employees to switch between the Intermountain Healthcare option, the non-Intermountain option and a hybrid of the two.

However, because it's the most costly to the county, the hybrid plan will be phased out by the end of this year. The swing plan also may be temporary while employees adjust to the new rates and settle into a new plan.

If the county had made no changes to its health plan from last year, employee premiums would have increased by 35 percent to cover costs. The revenue raised by the plan adopted Tuesday won't come close to covering that cost. Instead, the council decided to dip into the Employee Service Reserve Fund to make up the difference.

Trimming employees' responsibility for cost increases from 13 percent to 5 percent will take $600,000 from the fund, and preserving the swing option will cost another $400,000.

"The Employee Service Reserve Fund will absorb about $1 million in increased premiums instead of having the employees absorb the costs," said April Townsend, administrative services director. Townsend estimates that would leave roughly $4.8 million in the fund.

"I always felt (the fund) was employee money, because it really was always part of the compensation packet," Council Chairman Joe Hatch said. "What we're hearing from employees is, 'That's our money. Utilize it to help us this year.' "

Other council members, including newcomer Steve DeBry, said they are concerned about how to get back that $1 million during an economic downturn.

"If this does not work out in the long run, this is an option that cannot be used over and over and over again," DeBry said.

The new plan takes effect April 1. Until then, employees will be educated about the differences in this year's plan, and council members will continue trying to buffer the effects of an economic downturn.

"Clearly we all feel we're facing a tough time and want to do what's best for the employees while not jeopardizing our fundamentals," Councilwoman Jenny Wilson said.

e-mail: ashaha@desnews.com