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Walworth County Government Center

ELKHORN

Maximum out-of-pocket expenses will increase for some Walworth County employees in 2020 after the county board modified its health insurance plan Tuesday amid rising health care costs.

Walworth County Sheriff Kurt Picknell and the Walworth County Deputy Sheriff’s Association opposed the modification Tuesday, saying the move could hurt recruitment and retention of law enforcement officials.

“This is a national problem,” Picknell said. “… I would have liked to have seen a little more gradual adjustment … to try and share burdens or find opportunities to try and reduce the amount of growth in the health care costs.”

Under the plan, maximum out-of-pocket expenses will increase by $1,000 for a single and $2,000 for families for employees in the Tier 2 plan, rising to $3,000 and $6,000, respectively. Walworth County has a self-funded health care plan, meaning it acts as its own insurance company.

Board members Charlene Staples, William Norem and Susan Pruessing voted against the modification.

Walworth County Human Resources Director Kate Bishop said the current plan is unsustainable and health care costs are rising. According to a memo to the board, Walworth County would face a 15% increase in health care costs and a $1.7 million fund draw if no changes were made.

Walworth County Administrator Dave Bretl said the county is covering 123% of premium costs. He said the county had to choose between raising the premium—which would require more taxpayer dollars—or raising maximum out-of-pocket expenses.

Bretl said increasing premiums alone would have added about $683,000 to the 2020 budget. The plan approved Tuesday increases premiums by 4%, which will add about $300,000 to the budget.

Neil Trombley, president of the Walworth County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, told the board during public comment the health care modification has “caused quite a stir.”

“This is a hit we’re having a hard time swallowing,” Trombley said. “…We would like to see you guys not vote for this. Many of the people in the association are very concerned.”

He said the association completed its bargaining with the county in February and settled on a contract to increase wages. He questioned if there was “good-faith bargaining” with the county because of the proposal to increase out-of-pocket expenses.

Walworth County sheriff’s deputy and association member Cory Newmann told the board the modification will “absolutely have a chilling effect on recruiting and retention.”

He said the office already is short-staffed and that passing the modification might encourage law enforcement officers to consider working for municipal departments. He also said the timing of the modification is “terrible” because of the recently signed wage contract.

“I would strongly encourage all of you to consider voting against this resolution,” Newmann said.

Picknell echoed concerns about out-of-pocket increases having a negative impact on law enforcement retention and recruitment.

Bretl said health care costs continue to rise annually while the county’s budget remains heavily restricted by state-imposed levy limits.

He said the county has been forced to decide who covers rising health care costs: taxpayers or employees.

“This proposal today kind of ... split that responsibility between the county, which would pay an increased premium, and the employee,” Bretl said.

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