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Steve Bellone secures union deal for controlled health care costs 

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Sezeryadigar

County Executive Steve Bellone says that Suffolk has inked a pact with every county union to begin controlling health care costs.

That’s news because last year Suffolk County spent about $450 million on employee health care, an increase of almost 50 percent in just six years.

According to Bellone, one big change is that every employee will contribute to health care costs, set as a percentage of income. Workers will kick in 2 percent of their salaries for the coverage, rising to 2.5 percent over the five years of the pact. The minimum contribution is $1,500 a year and the max is $3,750.

In the previous collective bargaining agreement only workers hired after 2012 contributed, and the amount was set at 15 percent of the workers’ premiums. The biggest change in the employee healthcare plan will be new and increased co-pays and deductibles for every employee, which county officials say will save about $8.5 million a year on services and $4.3 million a year on prescription drugs.

But the sting for most union workers will be softened because the county has agreed to annual raises with its two biggest unions, the Police Benevolent Association and the Association of Municipal Employees. The PBA gets 1.875 percent per year for six years and AME gets 1.5 percent annually for eight years.

The health care deal comes well before the current pact was set to expire in December 2020, and runs through the end of 2025. The givebacks come after health care savings that were supposed to materialize in the last agreement took much longer to realize than was hoped.

First, union members will have to ratify the pacts. Then, when they are implemented, it will become clear what effect the new rules will have. And county officials, as optimistic as they are about the changes they’ve negotiated, acknowledge that the unions are fantastically knowledgeable in constructing these complicated pacts in their favor.

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