Bethel To Raise Cost Of Healthcare

by Adrian Wagner on April 14, 2016

20150224_City-of-Bethel_004_photo-by-Dean-Swope

The City of Bethel has drafted a proposal that it hopes will balance out a half million-dollar deficit to the city’s five million dollar General Fund by increasing the amount that city employees pay for health insurance.

Anne Capela, Bethel City Manager, drafted the document with the guidance of Anchorage based brokerage firm The Wilson Agency.

In a document detailing the plan, the cost of the new care would total $160 dollars a month, a sharp increase from what Capella says is almost nothing, around $600 a year.

According to the same document, the new plan would have a $1,000 deductible, something that Bethel doesn’t have at all now.

Capela says three changes are driving the shift: the Affordable Care Act’s evolving requirements for cities and employers, the increasing cost of care, and the lack of funds in other areas of the city budget, like infrastructure.

“It’s like running your house. If you can’t afford the penthouse, you gotta move down to the basement,” Capela said.

The city used to rely on state funding for capital projects like buying new water trucks, but since the state budget crisis, the city has been relying almost completely on it’s own sales tax.

“The state is not going to give us any capital money,” Capela said.

“So any trucks, anything the city needs for infrastructure, has to come from the small pot of money of sales tax,” Capela said.

If the city passes the proposal at the next city council meeting, the cost of insurance will actually be much closer to that of the rest of rural Alaska.

At the moment Bethel has some of the least expensive health insurance compared with its neighbors.

Fairbanks for example, which is almost entirely unionized, has a range of plans, but most city employees pay around $150 a month according to their city finance department.

The city of Nome is using the state organized insurance, which Bethel has so far opted out of. While Nome’s employees pay nothing monthly, they have a much larger deductible, between $2,000 to $4,000.

Capela has also proposed that a $100 emergency room deterrent be instated, which would change people for visiting the ER without a illness severe enough to be admitted, something that Nome and Fairbanks have not tried.

Capela says that this gives the employee ownership over their care and saves the city money on expensive visits to the hospital.

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