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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

June 10, 2009 at 3:17 PM

King County employee health care

Health cost not only budget factor

The Seattle Times and some King County executive candidates think making Metro KC employees pay a portion of health care premiums would help close the budget gap [“County workers should pay part of health tab,” editorial, June 10].

The Times states that health-care costs at the county have risen 29 percent in the past six years. I am sure that this figure is tiny compared with other state and national averages.

King County employees and their families have been participating in an innovative program to fight rising health-care costs by aggressively managing their own preventive care and improving lifestyle through diet and exercise. This effort has been lauded nationally for improving employee health and performance and managing long-term health-care costs, not just the short-term budget gaps.

Yes, the county budget limps somewhat from crisis to crisis, but this crisis, by all accounts, is extraordinary. And the limping is a statewide affliction that does not affect just King County with its unique employee benefits.

County Executive Ron Sims chose to manage human-resource costs by requiring all nonessential employees to take 10 furlough days in 2009, equivalent to an almost 4-percent pay cut and far more than $41.20 per employee per month. This cut has a huge impact on employees and families as they manage other rising costs, including county-assessed property taxes, food, utilities and services. This strategy was an aggressive, short-term fix for the current fiscal crisis.

Everything is always on the table when labor negotiations begin. But the new executive must remember the high cost of living for the employees in King County and not jump to the conclusion that employee health-care costs are the only thing “zapping” the budget.

— Judi Radloff, Kirkland

Call it a pay cut

Regarding your editorial on county workers picking up their health tab: No they shouldn’t. Call it what it is: a pay cut.

I would bet that more than the $7 million you cite could be saved by pooling the health-care costs of large numbers of public employees into self-administered co-ops. As expensive as health care is, private health insurance — with its unconscionable, profit-driven need to spend huge sums to just say no to its customers — is much more costly.

I am not alone in this opinion. Just a few inches from your editorial, an eloquent letter to the editor from Elizabeth Hanson [“Treat it like a utility”] makes a similar point. Health care, along with clean air and water, universal education, defense, safety and infrastructure are too expensive and broadly necessary to have their missions perverted by the often rapacious and equally inefficient private sector.

— Bob Gordon, Bothell

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