By Liz Gelardi
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Sept. 9, 2014) - The men and women who protect and serve the Circle City are caught up in a battle over health insurance. The city's police and fire unions filed lawsuits against the city over changes to health insurance plans. Lawyers for the unions accuse city officials of violating union contracts.
According to the lawsuit, the city plans to get rid of the current HMO advantage plan beginning this January. The plan would be replaced by a health savings account or (HSA).
The separate lawsuits were filed by Indianapolis Profession Firefighters Union Local 416 and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 86. Union leaders released a joint statement on Wednesday:
"Neither organization desired legal action. Yet, despite [our] efforts to reach a reasonable resolution to the matter, the City administration refused to change its position."
Union reps said city leaders officially notified them of the changes on August 18th. The decision to change health insurance plans comes after both unions agreed to extend their collective bargaining agreement for another two years. As part of that agreement, firefighters agreed to push back their pay raises.
FOP Vice President, Rick Snyder, said the Ballard administration never brought up eliminating the HMO during contract talks. The lawsuit details of series of contract-related meetings between union leaders and city officials beginning on July 15, 2013. Snyder said he was notified about health insurance changes after the contract was ratified by the membership.
"Had our members known that they were going to be required to look at such a substantial increase in premiums and deductibles they could have addressed that through the negotiations process, that’s the reason for having it," said Snyder.
The lawsuits list several individuals who could end up paying more under the new plan. One example, an officer with prostate cancer who is a 37-year veteran of IMPD. Court documents said under the officer currently pays $400 per year to cover shots that treat his cancer. If his plan is switch from a HMO to HSA he will pay $3,500 out-of-pocket before the new insurance plan kicks in, covering 80% of his medical costs.
Mayor Greg Ballard was interviewed about the lawsuit during his appearance on the FOX59 morning show. During that interview he denied claims that this new plan will end up costing employees more.
“I’m not sure that’s necessarily true, I mean they may say that but that’s really not necessarily true," said Mayor Ballard.
The FOP maintains city leaders did not say anything that would lead them to expect any changes to the health coverage in the immediate future. It states, "FOP 86 leaders advised members that the contract extension would not include any changes to the City offered health insurance plans until 2017 at the soonest - since the parties would be re-negotiating the entirety of the FOP 86/City Contract for 2017 and beyond."
“We’ve been telling them for a couple of years that there’s going to be this kind of change," said Mayor Ballard He continued, “and earlier this year we told all the unions that it’s going to be this year. If they didn’t inform their members that’s on them but we told them earlier this year that this was going to be the year for it.”
FOX59 has obtained a copy of a letter the city sent to union leaders on Sept. 2. The letter from City Controller Jason Dudich states, “maintaining the current model is not suitable for the city because budgets are tight.” The letter describes a three-tiered HSA plan that will be available to employees. It said each employee will have their own account, which the city will contribute funds and employees can made pre-tax contributions.
The city will contribute up to $1,250 for a single person and $2,500 for a family. Retirees will not receive any contribution. Under the new plan the city will partner with a yet-to-be determined partner to provide access to clinics. A representative for retirees said they will not be eligible to use to clinics. Retirees are covered under the city's health plans until they are eligible for Medicare.
An attorney for the unions has requested a preliminary injunction, meaning he would like the city to hold off on implementing the new health insurance plans until the case has been decided. The preliminary injunction is set for a hearing on September 23 at 1:30 a.m.