The Atlantic County government is facing a $4.2 million increase in health insurance costs in its 2023 budget, due to a 22.8% increase in premiums imposed last month by the State Health Benefits Plan Committee, County Executive Dennis Levinson said Monday.
The increase would translate into an increase in county taxes of about 1.17 cents per $100 assessment to cover current employees, and about 1.77 cents per $100 if all open positions were filled, according to Vinson.
For a $300,000 home, the tax increase to cover the health insurance increase would be $35 to $53.
Particularly worrisome for Levinson, the county’s high-ranking elected official, was the belated notice of a sharp rate hike, which gave the county no time to adjust.
“Over the past 18 years, average annual rate increases have been less than 3%,” Levinson wrote in a letter Monday to the county commissioners. “To add salt to the wound, we later learned that (the state health benefits commission) was aware of the pending rate increases since February but withheld that information.”
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The state had the information, however, and Governor Phil Murphy negotiated a deal with state unions to limit its worker rate increase to 3%.
“Had local governments been aware of the circumstances, we might as well have been able to negotiate. But when you are only notified in September and asked to submit your budgets for 2023 in mid-January, your options are very limited,” Levinson said. “Why haven’t we given the same opportunity to the state guilds?”
Levinson urged commissioners to support legislation to force SHBP to include representatives from local and county governments, and to be transparent about why the premiums would need to be increased.
“Keep in mind that (the Program Committee) does not have local government representation even though it is responsible for making decisions that have a significant impact on local governments and their taxpayers,” Levinson said.
Active personnel costs will increase from $27.7 million in 2022 to $31.7 million in 2023 ($33.7 million if all vacancies are filled); While costs for retired members will rise from $2.6 million in 2022 to $2.8 million in 2023, according to Vinson.
Levinson said the state refused to release specific information about the claims, which is necessary “to provide a better understanding of the history of the claims and the reason for the exorbitant increases.”
a law Project Introduced September 29 and sponsored by Deputy Speaker Yvonne Lopez, D-Middlesex, (A4670/S3049) will change the number of times participants in the state’s health benefits program can access their claims data, increasing its details without compromising privacy.
The SHBP committee based the increases on actual use of Medicare by participants in 2021, according to information on its website.
in statement of facts On the issue, the state Treasury said the need for such premium increases is driven by increased utilization of medical services and increased health care costs.
The ministry said its analysis was based on a report provided by Counselor On.
“The combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in significantly higher use of medical services in general by members of our plans, both because of illness caused by COVID infection, and perhaps most importantly, because many members have previously had services or procedures deferred due to the pandemic,” according to the newspaper. facts.
She said members have turned to more visits to higher-cost specialists, emergency room visits and urgent care visits.
Because of inflation and other factors that affect health care costs, in New Jersey and nationally, the cost of medical services and procedures in 2021 overall increased by more than 5%.
However, New Jersey’s costs are rising at more than twice the rate of other states, according to an analysis nj.com/.
Levinson expects a total increase of $4.2 million in health benefit costs for Atlantic County in 2023 based on current employees, and an additional $2 million if vacant positions are filled.
“Active member contributions will also increase from $4.7 million to $5.1 million,” Levinson said.
Atlantic County commissioners passed a $236.8 million budget for 2022 in April that allowed for a small property tax cut.
The county joined SHBC in 2003.
Levinson said the state has taken until October 13 to post new rates on its website, so the county can only now anticipate exact cost increases.
“Atlantic County employees will not only be required to pay more cost contributions, but they may also pay more property taxes, raising their chin not once, but twice,” Levinson said.
Reporter: Michele Brunetti Post