As you may recall, it was about a year ago (add a couple of months) that we were treated to the news that the taxpayers of Sierra Madre were paying what looked to be the single most expensive employee health care insurance plan in California in the year 2012. A record that was only broken recently by a water district located in Long Beach.
This 2014 article, penned by Transparent California's Robert Fellner, was called "State and local government spending on health insurance grew by twice the national rate for 2012" and you can link to it here.
One of the more alarming data points I have come across while compiling the necessary records for the Transparent California website has been the large sums of money spent on health insurance for public employees. As our site groups together the cost of pension payouts and health insurance in order to present the information in a uniform and understandable manner, the cost of individual health plans was not something we were particularly focusing on.
However, in the course of formatting and uploading the necessary records to Transparent California.com, several agencies jumped out at me due to their alarmingly expensive health insurance plans. First, it was the $20k+ plans in Corte Madera, Calif. and the Contra Costa Community College District. Then I saw the $30k+ plans in Beverly Hills. Finally, I came across what remains the most expensive plan I have seen to date — a $37,815 health insurance plan for the Water Superintendent of Sierra Madre, Calif.
As the City of Sierra Madre shows signs of cranking up the UUTax hike initiative "process" for an unprecedented third time in six years, it is important to remember that it was not too long ago that some of the most ridiculous health insurance spends imaginable were being doled out to city employees here, and with no questions asked. And in 2012 we not only had the single most expensive health insurance package out there, we also owned the lion's share of the Top 10 for the entire state in that category. Only the City Manager of Beverly Hills even came close to our guys.
Here is a chart that Transparent California's Robert Fellner put together for us showing just how out of line with the real world we really were in 2012.
The City's individual health insurance plan costs started to come down a little. Here are the Top 20 or so health care package costs for the year 2013. As you can see, they were still quite high, but at least Sierra Madre was no longer setting state records.
All of the adverse publicity that the City of Sierra Madre had been receiving on this site and elsewhere began to have an effect. In November of 2014 City Hall posted the following on their website. This is a notice that they had established a maximum of $18,000 a year for management medical insurance plans, and $15,000 a year for classified employees. Here is what the management version of this looks like (link):
Which, when you compare it to the excesses of 2012, isn't quite so bad. Again, not being the highest in the entire state for things like utility taxes and health insurance plans isn't necessarily a bad thing. Certainly we'd had more than enough of that sort of infamy.
But here is another 2013 Transparent California chart for you to check out.
Notice the bar all the way to the left. Average private sector health insurance package costs on the west coast are $7,464. All the way to the right you can see that the Metropolitan Water District is over $16,000 on average. Which just goes to show it isn't only their water that is golden.
Now while we're not quite that bad these days, City Hall health care insurance packages in Sierra Madre are still not quite in line with the real world. Even that $11,000 state government average is probably quite a bit less. We are kind of extrapolating here a little because City Hall has yet to share its 2014 numbers with anyone. Unfortunately those are still under wraps, though I am certain they must know what they are by now.
So we do need to ask, where are City employee health insurance costs in Sierra Madre today?
As the residents of this town are being asked to struggle with exactly where and what to cut as far as spending goes, and given this city's rather sketchy past in the category of health insurance plans for its employees, this would seem to be information that everyone needs to know.
As one commenter put it early this morning:
It is not really fair to talk about what department budgets (or departments altogether) should be cut because we don't really know what goes into those budgets. Health insurance costs are one thing. There are others as well.
If Sierra Madre has to bring its budgets down by $740,000 or so, wouldn't knocking health insurance costs down somewhere near the private sector average save the city around $100,000 of that figure? Again, we don't have the 2014 numbers so it is hard to be exact.
But I'll bet it would be more than enough to save Community Services.