The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


January 29, 2014

"Cadillac" of health plans vexes supers

Share of $56G coverage for 1.5 workers risks 3-twp. cooperative

LEWISBURG — Who pays what in covering $56,000 in health care coverage for one full- and one part-time East Buffalo Township worker could determine whether an adjoining municipality remains in a cooperative, officials said Wednesday night.

White Deer Township has been a member of the cooperative with East Buffalo and Kelly townships for 20 years. On Wednesday night, White Deer supervisors learned they had been paying one-third of the $56,000 health premiums for East Buffalo planning director Ralph Hess and his assistant.

Hess earns $50,000. His assistant’s name and salary were unavailable at deadline.

At a special public meeting of the three municipalities, White Deer supervisors Carroll Diefenbach, Larry Seibert and Don Wilver Jr. said the township is not getting its money’s worth from the cooperative. White Deer paid $56,000 in 2013 for the cooperative’s services, but brought in just $11,000 in fees from its own municipality.

Under the three-township deal, Hess and his assistant are on the East Buffalo Township payroll and receive its benefits. By law, they must be on a single township’s payroll and must receive that municipality’s benefits.

Employees of East Buffalo Township have no copay and receive full coverage for medical, hospital, dental, eye and prescription drugs. East Buffalo Township officials acknowledged it’s a “Cadillac plan” for health insurance.

“I’d like to know what’s in that plan,” Seibert said, noting White Deer Township contributes to employees’ health care but they have a copay. Seibert said he’d like to see East Buffalo’s total health-care cost “if that’s your coverage for two employees.”

Diefenbach said if that’s East Buffalo’s plan, “Fine, but then (East Buffalo) should cover the health insurance.”

Kelly Township Supervisors David Hassenplug and Fred Greenawalt also found that plan astonishing, noting their municipality offers employees health insurance but they share in the cost.

East Buffalo went shopping for insurance last year and couldn’t do better in price than the plan it has, township manager Stacey Kifolo said.

“We all recognize we have a very good plan,” she said.

A possible solution put forth by East Buffalo Township supervisors is that Kelly and White Deer townships would cover “a fair amount” of the insurance and East Buffalo, the rest.

Keeping the alliance seemed the favored option among all three municipalities, though White Deer Township supervisors made their position clear.

Money matters.

“Cost has crept up to a point where, for the township, it’s not affordable” to stay in the partnership, Wilver said. “It’s not a good use for us. We can hire a part-time person for less than $56,000. To leave would be a significant savings for us. Do we need that level of service?”

White Deer Township’s alternative is to get services from Central Keystone Council of Governments, a cooperative of about 30 municipalities that provides services such as zoning and planning.

At the last meeting to negotiate a price among the three, White Deer officials “put forward a best effort to negotiate price and it didn’t work,” Seibert said, adding the message the supervisors got was “nothing was negotiable.”

“I have no doubt of Ralph,” Seibert said after Hess read aloud, by request of East Buffalo Township supervisor Thomas Zorn, a three-page list of his duties. “The issue is we have no need for 33 percent (of this office) and we’re paying 33 percent.”

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