Politics at their finest

I am the wife of an Ellis County employee and would like to draw your attention to what I believe is a grave miscarriage of justice toward our county employees.

Every once in a while, I can still be shocked by the political antics of our great state's politicians. This recent situation that is happening with the county employee insurance would be almost laughable if it wasn't such a downright shame. Let me explain why I am so outraged.

Open enrollment for insurance choices is between Oct. 1 and 31 every year. If you do not get online and make your annual choices, you will not have insurance -- it's that simple. This year, the Ellis County commissioners have decided they are paying too much of a percentage of the employees' policies and want to increase the employee portion from 5 percent to 10 percent. They want to move that up again next year to 15 percent and again the following year to 20 percent.

As a government employee under the same exact plan, I can tell you such an increase could be a huge impact on a person's paycheck. The cost of a family policy with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, along with family dental and vision, is approximately $15,000 per year. Five percent of this policy is approximately $62.50 per month for the employee, which I'm sure anyone would agree is a wonderful insurance benefit. In fact, I know many county workers who have chosen to work for Ellis County at low-paying jobs in order to take advantage of the wonderful insurance package they offer -- or should I say the insurance package that was being offered? And although insurance costs do go up, the rates actually went down this year for the first time in many years. Moving this percentage up to 10 percent will change the insurance package from what was valued at approximately $7 per hour down to less than $6.50 per hour.

Then, if they follow the plan they have been trying to negotiate with the union, it would go down again another 5 percent the following year to being worth barely more than $6 per hour, and then down again to nearly $5.75 per hour the year after that.

The commissioners have generously offered to give employee's a 1-percent raise to help offset the costs, but you don't have to be a math major to understand 15 cents an hour does not equal $1.25 per hour.

That entire aside, the really shameful thing we need to focus on is these employees are being held hostage by our county commissioners in terms of being able to make an educated decision on their insurance. From what I understand, the commissioners have contracted a Wage and Benefits Study (paying approximately $38,000, by the way, for this study instead of just using those funds to supplement the employee insurance fund) and they do not want to make a commitment to what percentage they will pay for employee insurance until those results come in.

Unfortunately, those results will not be in until sometime in November, which will be well past the Oct. 31 cutoff for health insurance choices. So what they are doing is effectively asking the employee to sign up blindly. Most employees just want to know what the rates are. If they've gone up, so be it. But to not tell the employees those figures prior to them signing up is again laughable. I would liken the situation to being asked to purchase a vehicle without knowing what the monthly payment will be.

I can't imagine any of our commissioners would sign on the dotted line for anything without knowing what they were paying. I can't tell you how many people I've told this story to that have asked me if this is even legal. I don't know about legal, but it is certainly shameful. To ask your employee to sign up without telling them what they will be paying is downright ridiculous. Many families have two working parents in the household and might be fortunate enough to have two insurance plans to choose from. However, it's impossible for those employees to make an educated decision on what insurance package would work best for their family with only half of the equation to work with. And then we have the families with only one main breadwinner, that guy or gal who is working for a low wage in order to receive great health insurance coverage for his or her family. These people are basically stuck signing up no matter what, and just hoping for the best.

Over and over I've heard various county employees say if these rates go up, they will not be able to afford to work for the county any longer. They can get a similar package for the same price but higher pay somewhere else. I wonder if our commissioners have looked at the long-term fiscal affect this will have on the county.

The cost of recruiting, hiring and then training could more than outweigh that 5 percent they so desperately want to haggle over. People might ask, "Why are you taking the chance of speaking out and causing problems for your husband?" Mine and my husband's answer is to tell you sometimes you witness behavior so awful you find you can't just stand by silently and do nothing. This is one of those times.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to the good people of Ellis County reading about how their county workers are being treated. Oct. 31 is this week, so we are running out of time.

Debra L. Fisher,

Hays