There is a problem with fiscal responsibility in the local government of Jackson County. They are currently paying their County Administrator, Danny Jordan, over $150,000 a year, and yet they are denying their county employees the right to change healthcare plans that will both save the county money and improve their healthcare options.
The employees of the Jackson County Employee Association (JCEA), who are a part of SEIU Local 503, are in the middle of contract negotiations, which will set wages, benefits, and working conditions for the next few years. They have been facing heavy push back and retaliation from their management, who is refusing to move on critical issues like wages and who are using the expiration of their current contract as a window to start firing employees at will. At the same time, the employees want to join other public employees from around the state to have their health insurance through the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB).
PEBB is a state program that provides benefits for more than 140,000 public employees across Oregon. Because PEBB deals with health insurance at such a large scale it ends up being an incredibly cost effective way of providing employee benefits that do not overly tax the budgets of state and local governments. PEBB also has a reputation for offering great health plans for the employees they cover, which is a wonderful opportunity for working families to receive the health coverage they need.
“I want to join PEBB because it is an affordable option that would cover the cost of medical expenses and be less out of pocket not only for myself, but for my fellow colleagues who work for the county. It wouldn’t just change my life when it came to some of my health issues, but it would change the lives of those who have more substantial issues than myself,” says Joseph Hedberg, an employee at the Medford Airport and a member of SEIU 503. “I’ve seen some coworkers who’ve put off doctors’ appointments because of the high cost we currently have and nobody should have to live like that.”
Unfortunately, the County Commissioners do not share their employees’ vision for quality health insurance. The county says that it would lose control over the health insurance, but the problem is that insurance costs for county workers have been allowed to skyrocket while coverage has declined. PEBB ensures that healthcare costs do not increase more than 3.4% a year, less than half of what costs increase on the private healthcare market.
“Many of my colleagues skip trips to the doctor or go without prescriptions because they can’t afford the bills. This puts them and their families at risk. Jackson County employees regularly leave their jobs for better positions at the city of Medford, the city of Ashland or in the private sector,” says Jackson County receptionist Laurie Gallo. “That turnover harms everyone by taking skilled, experienced people out of public service jobs that serve our community.”
One of the key issues here is financial responsibility, and ensuring that the county uses our tax dollars responsibly. PEBB is a more cost effective way for both the county and the employees, maximizing healthcare options with the lowest possible cost.
“The pebb system has a lesser cost to not just the county, but to the employees, which would allow me to take my kids to the doctor,” says Angela Carruthers, who works for the Jackson County as a mental health employee.
Right now many staff people in the county who have health insurance still cannot afford to get the correct care because of deductibles and co-pays, and switching programs would ensure their access to quality care while reducing county costs.
“It matters because each of us has worked really hard to be good servants of the community everyday,” says Kimber Dollarhide, a case manager with Jackson County Developmental Disabilities. “We have the right to have good health insurance. Health insurance that we can actually afford to take our children to.”
The employees of Jackson County deserve better, and so does the rest of the county who should expect a higher standard from their elected representatives. Switching to PEBB is a smart way to keep our budgets in check, avoid government waste, and ensure that working families get the type of healthcare their families need to thrive.