Tisbury trims healthcare plans for elected officials
Tisbury selectmen Jeffrey Kristal and Geoghan Coogan approved an amendment to the town's longstanding policy regarding group health care insurance for paid elected officials. The action took place Tuesday at the selectmen's regular meeting.
Selectman Tristan Israel recused himself and left the room during the discussion and vote because he is one of four town board members who receive the benefit.
Prior to 1997, Tisbury offered members of town boards, including the selectmen, public works commissioners, health department, water commissioners, moderator, and constable, a municipal health care policy, in addition to any stipend they received.
In March 1997, selectmen Henry O. Burt, A. Kirk Briggs, and Mr. Israel voted to change the policy to offer group health insurance only to compensated elected officials who regularly work more than 20 hours a week. At that time, only the town clerk qualified.
The new policy, which is still in effect, denied benefits to board members elected later and also grandfathered the benefits for board members covered at that time by group health insurance, until they left office.
The policy also allowed elected officials, regardless of compensation or number of hours regularly worked, the opportunity to subscribe to the town group health insurance plan at their own expense as long as they remained in office.
Currently, the town pays 75 percent of the cost of a family plan, $16,245 per year for Mr. Israel, board of public works (BPW) commissioners Arthur Dickson and Fred Thifault, and water department commissioner David Schwab. Former board of health (BOH) member Kenneth Garde also received health insurance through the town until he lost his bid for reelection in April.
BPW commissioner John Thayer, elected a year after selectmen changed the town policy in 1997, has received no health care benefits and an annual stipend of $240.
Last January, Mr. Thayer asked the selectmen to consider reinstating a policy that provides healthcare benefits to all board members. Mr. Thayer argued that the current policy is unfair and provides no incentives for participation in town government by younger residents.
In February, the selectmen asked Mr. Coogan, finance and advisory committee chairman Larry Gomez, and municipal finance director Tim McLean to review the town policy and analyze options and associated costs.
Mr. Coogan said Tuesday night that offering the same Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BC/BS) preferred provider organization (PPO) health insurance policy that the four elected officials now receive to all board members, as Mr. Thayer suggested, would be too expensive and its cost unpredictable.
Instead, Mr. Coogan said he and the committee thought stipends for all board members might be a more reasonable and controllable option. Currently only the selectmen ($3,000), assessors ($1,500), water department ($300), BPW ($240), and board of health ($200) receive stipends.
Mr. Coogan and the committee recommended amending the town's health care policy to require the four elected officials who still receive the benefit to switch to Medicare at age 65, or else pay 100 percent of the town's policy's cost. That change would affect Mr. Thifault and Mr. Dixon.
For Mr. Schwab and Mr. Israel, who are not eligible for Medicare, the committee recommended switching them from their current BC/BS plan to a less expensive HMO single-member plan, with the option to pay the difference for a family plan.
Mr. Thifault, who was reelected to a new three-year term in April, objected to the selectmen asking him to give up his BC/BS plan. He said although he did not run for office again to take advantage of the health insurance plan, it was unfair to take it away from a person who has devoted himself to the town in numerous capacities for more than 50 years.
He suggested the selectmen should allow him and the others to wait until their terms are up, and make the change in insurance if they were reelected.
In response, Mr. Coogan and Mr. Kristal voted to amend the health care policy as recommended by the committee, and to allow Mr. Thifault and the others to remain on their current plans for the remainder of their elected terms.