Public workers losing free health insurance

A Suffolk highway patrol officer talks to a A Suffolk highway patrol officer talks to a driver during a traffic stop. Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas, 2011

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One labor contract at a time, the practice of governments paying all of a civil servant's health care premiums seems to be going the way of doctors making house calls.

Last week, the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association agreed to have new officers pay up to 15 percent, with the county's other new union employees also expected to make such contributions for the first time.

In April, Westchester announced a contract by which current Teamster union workers contribute up to 12.5 percent for the first time, while new employees will kick in up to 20 percent.

Late last month, Rockland's Civil Service Employees Association leaders agreed to have new members pay 15 percent.

And last year, the state CSEA accepted a five-year deal that hiked existing worker contributions for the first time in 30 years. Payments for family coverage for top-grade employees, for example, rose to 31 percent, according to details provided at the time.

In Nassau, unions held the health-premium line in previous contract rounds, but one source close to the troubled county's state monitoring board said Friday, "What has been accomplished in Suffolk . . . has the potential to change the discussions in Nassau."

New York City continues to pick up 100 percent of the premium for most employees despite City Hall's giveback demands. But many of those employees are working under terms of expired agreements that automatically continue under state law. And it seems likely that when a new mayor takes office in 2014, he or she will start a new push, undoubtedly noting that most private employees already contribute to their health insurance.

Uniformed employees are sometimes the last to keep free or nearly free health insurance. At the New York Association of Counties, deputy director Mark LaVigne cited a handful of New York counties that as of 2011 paid 100 percent of the premiums just for police, sheriffs or correction officers.

GOING WEST:For the second time in 11 days, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), running in a newly drawn district that now includes more of Nassau, stands Monday alongside a countywide elected official as he and Democratic District Attorney Kathleen Rice announce efforts to protect the quality of seniors' online pharmacy purchases.

On July 27, he joined GOP County Executive Edward Mangano in Mineola promoting legislation that would allow Nassau and Suffolk to keep funds recovered in Medicaid prosecutions. Israel faces Republican Stephen Labate in November.

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