Unions, labor organizations and elected officials representing hundreds of thousands of New Jersey public sector workers are opposing double-digit increases in health care premiums for workers covered by state insurance plans.
State institutions and their employees participating in the State Health Care Program are facing a premium rate increase of more than 20%, which will take effect on January 1.
In a virtual press conference Monday, union leaders and local government officials said they are proposing that the state Legislature approve a one-time appropriation of $350 million to offset rising premium costs.
“Such a dramatic increase in all of our expenses will put a severe strain on municipal and county budgets,” said East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironawa. “The hard work of our public servants and the burden on all property taxpayers at a time when everyone, including [Murphy] administration, continues to promote the accessibility program.”
The State Health Program Commission approved the price increase in September. Public health plans cover about 816,000 people across the Garden State, some of whom work in schools, libraries, health departments, government agencies, public works, law enforcement, fire companies and other fields.
In the original agreement, some compromises were made to limit the contributions of civil servants, but this only applies to employees of government agencies and departments. People working in municipal and county government are largely excluded from the agreement.
“We’re talking about a statewide impact on local governments and local government employees who didn’t have a say in this,” said Mike Serra, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities. “It’s certainly not their fault.”
Union and labor officials say the $350 million in one-time appropriations will be used to help city and county public employers and their employees cover additional insurance costs.
Otherwise, some of those costs are likely to be passed on to taxpayers. Many local governments are expected to approve new budget plans by spring.
“And frankly, public employees would be hit twice because they’re also taxpayers,” said Fran Errett, New Jersey director of the Communications Workers of America.
Union leaders have warned that higher health care costs will hurt recruitment and retention efforts in the public sector and local government jobs.
Kevin Lyons said it’s definitely a problem in law enforcement. Lyons represents the New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association.
“At the end of the day, you know, we’re asking for help here,” he said. “We are looking for short-term mitigation to solve the long-term problem and then solve the long-term problem. I think that should not be out of place in this proposal.’
Local governments and unions have also committed to saving $100 million in the State Health Program by 2024.
This article first appeared on WHY.org.