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New Health Care Agreement Reached with County Employees

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County officials announced an agreement Tuesday that will make Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Western new York the sole provider of health coverage for most county employees.

Six of the county's labor unions signed on to the exclusive plan that will provide them with fully-paid health care coverage through retirement. But the deal benefits the county too, with a first year savings of roughly $8 million. The savings come from a combination of reduced premiums, resulting from greater buying power, and a one year wage freeze negotiated with the unions. Tom Dziedzic, who is President of Teamsters Local 264, says it was a good trade off.

"The unions in Erie County are much excited about this. We think it's revolutionary, it's unprecedented, in this day and age, to buy our health care for the remainder of our lives," said Dziedzic.

Union employees custom designed the insurance package, which Blue Cross and Blue Shield then won in a competitive bid process. Until now, county employees had a choice of a five health insurers. But rates were considered largely non-competitive. This new package also guarantees employees coverage after retirement. County Executive Joel Giambra says the health care cooperative will be offered to other municipalities. He says the buying power of county government is huge.

"We've used this with power aggregation, by getting our power costs down, being able to bundle that, we've shared that with other towns and villages, and city government," said Giambra. "This is yet just another example of how county government can work, if you will, as a corporate headquarters and share the largess with other participating municipalities that decide to opt in."

However, there are still two county groups that have not yet opted in. The Civil Service Employee Association and the Sheriff's department union have not agreed to the wage concessions that are part of the agreement. But county officials say they are hopeful the remaining two unions will eventually come on board. If so, that could increase the county's first year savings by another $10 million.