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Sonoma County’s retiree health costs resume upward march

An overflow crowd of current and retired Sonoma County employees listens from outside as supervisors debate health care benefit cuts in 2008. (PD File/2008)

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Three years after a highly controversial rollback in retiree medical benefits, Sonoma County government’s costs for retiree health care and its long-term liabilities again are on the rise.

The increase is shown in a county report made public last week and headed to the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday for acceptance.

It reveals what one supervisor, Shirlee Zane, called a “disappointing” picture of escalating costs that the county sought to cap in 2008 with benefit reductions approved over the protests of current and former workers.

The reductions are the subject of a court challenge. Their full extent is not set to kick in for another two years, but figures in the new report show the rollback already has dropped the county’s retiree health care costs by as much as 42 percent a year and decreased taxpayers’ long-term unfunded liability for retiree benefits by almost $150 million.

Both figures, however, are now on the rise. Annual costs jumped from $21.8 million in the fiscal year 2009-2010 to $24.7 million in the current year, the report showed.

Over the same period, the county’s unfunded obligations to retiree medical over the next 30 years also increased by more than 13 percent, or nearly $39 million, to about $298 million, the report showed.

“It’s frustrating,” Zane said of the new projections, which came in a biannual review by a county actuary.

The county also is struggling under the weight of mounting pension costs and other fiscal woes. Next month officials will begin budget discussions likely to result in a fourth consecutive year of spending cuts for public services.

A renewed rise in retiree health care costs could exacerbate that crisis, county officials said.

“That it’s going back up, that’s not good news,” Zane said.

The report forecasts increases in retiree health care costs for the county extending to 2028, when they are projected to peak at $35 million a year and drop gradually thereafter.

Chris Thomas, a deputy county administrator, conceded the projections appear dramatic and said some of the figures have prompted concern at county headquarters in Santa Rosa.

But Thomas cautioned that the implications for county budgets now and into the future were not yet clear. The uncertainty has to do with accounting methods, he said.

Under standard government accounting rules, the county is required to put on its books all costs and long-term liabilities associated with its retiree health care program, he said. That includes liabilities expected to be borne by the retirees.

Under changes approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2008, retiree benefits were sharply reduced. For the current 2,700 retirees and roughly 1,200 beneficiaries and dependents, it meant the county contribution for premium costs would decline from 85 percent of the lowest cost plan for an entire household to $500 a month per household by 2013.

For employees hired after January 1, 2009, it meant a switch to an employee-managed health retirement account supplemented by a defined county contribution during employment but without any guaranteed county payment in retirement.

The changes will shift increasingly more — and eventually most — annual costs and liabilities onto retirees, Thomas said.

But because those retirees remain in the same overall program as current workers, with the option to purchase health care through the county — a provision called an “implicit subsidy” for retirees — the costs and liabilities associated with them show up on the county’s books, he said.

Thomas said that includes a main driver behind the two-year, $39 million—rise in long-term unfunded medical liability: a $20 million increase linked to higher future health care costs.

Most of that projected figure may be borne by retirees, not taxpayers, he said. The exact share for each group and what it might mean for the county budget this year and going forward is still unknown, he said.

“That part is the really hard part to understand,” Thomas said. For the coming fiscal year, he said, “we’re working that detail out now and we’re going to be bringing that to the board in January.”

Two other factors added about $17 million to the unfunded liability. They included a recent wave of early retirements and a lowering in the investment earnings assumption rate on the assets in the retiree health fund. Both were expected to put upward pressure on county costs.

Already the county is behind about $30 million in annual required retiree health insurance contributions over the past three years, the report showed.

The underpayment is a result of the Board of Supervisors’ decision to limit annual contributions to an amount equal to 7.5 percent of county payroll.

The required contribution this fiscal year — $24.7 million — equates to 7.86 percent of payroll. Future cost projections would have that amount climb even further against what is expected to be marginal short-term growth in the county workforce.

Benefit rollbacks are not necessary or planned at this time, Thomas said. That’s because the county’s effective payroll rate is closer to 5.6 percent — 7.86 percent minus the “implicit subsidy” for retirees — and therefore well beneath the benchmark authorized by supervisors, Thomas said.

Even with the projected rise through the next several decades, annual costs are seen as unlikely to eclipse that 7.5 percent mark, Thomas said.

“We’re still comfortable we’ve hit the target,” he said.

But the county retirees’ court challenge is being watched as a potential game-changer.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has taken up the case after the Sonoma County Association of Retired Employees, which represents about 1,500 former workers, appealed a district court judge’s rejection of their case.

The appellate decision could hinge on a recent ruling by the California Supreme Court in a similar case involving retired Orange County employees.

The state high court found that health benefits for government retirees may not be eliminated if the employer clearly promised workers those benefits. That promise can exist as an implied term outside of the standard written contracts governments draw up with their employees, the court said.

Retiree representatives say the decision bolsters their case. They have cited job announcements and public statements by county leaders that they say meet the definition of a contractual promise.

But Sonoma County Counsel Bruce Goldstein said the lower court’s direction was clear last year when Judge Claudia Wilken saidg retirees failed to show retiree health care was an implied term in any contract.

The state high court’s ruling in the Orange County case also stressed that any court deliberating such a matter “ensure that neither the governing body nor the public will be blindsided by unexpected obligations.”

County officials are arguing that point: a reversal would have to consider the latest cost figures.

“For a court to say that the county once again had this obligation would have a huge financial impact,” Goldstein said.





39 Responses to “Sonoma County’s retiree health costs resume upward march”

  1. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @RC

    A couple of things. First, here is something more recent from the same source as you provide (a conservative organization by the way, though more moderate recently):

    http://www.pewhispanic.org/2011/08/25/hispanic-college-enrollment-spikes-narrowing-gaps-with-other-groups/

    And as I’ve said, upward mobility is measured by the ability of persons born in the US (not foreign born) in poverty to get out of poverty and into the middle class. Most immigrants tend to settle in areas where others of the same background have already settled. Many Chinese in SF have not assimilated well either. But it is the children of the immigrants that we should be looking at. The American dream – come to the US and work 2-3 jobs to make a better life for your kids. All the chart you quote really says is that immigrants from Mexico come here with lower education levels than those from other countries – it says nothing about how well their kids born here will do. If Hispanic kids born here are not doing as well as other groups (and I don’t think they do any worse than other groups born in poverty), it is because our education system is failing them.
    .
    We’ve gone back and forth on the other issues before, and as I’ve said, I would restore all of the Bush tax cuts, not just those for the wealthy. I’m much more “hung up” with capital gains and the ability to pass on wealth intact at death than I am about the marginal rate. It is the wealthy who pay lower effective rates than the middle class, which bother me most, along with the fact that we are creating an aristocracy by birth. It is these two issues, along with the poor education and health care for those born into poverty which are causing the loss in upward mobility and income inequality.

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  2. Reality Check says:

    LBR,

    To keep this simple, check out graph 20 from the Pew Research Center.

    http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/Hispanics_in_America/PHC_foreignborn_1006.pdf

    The point is we have for the first time allowed virtually unlimited numbers of immigrants who resist assimilation, by learning English or pursuing higher eduction. Compare the graduate and post-graduate rates between Mexican immigrants and those from South Asia. Mexicans, I regret to say, have not for whatever reasons chosen to go down that paths by which one advances in America, as other groups have historically done.

    As to blaming income inequality on Reagan’s tax cuts, the price Reagan extracted for lower marginal rates was the elimination of loopholes and tax shelters the rich used. You are too hung up on the marginal rate, not the revenue collected. What good is a 90% marginal rate if virtually no one actually pays?

    If you eliminate the Bush tax cuts on the rich (above $250K), you raise $80B. Let me see, with that we’re going to solve the problems of income inequality? I don’t think so.

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  3. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @RC – I tried, but could not find your “well documented” evidence that immigrants are less educated, except at some anti-immigrant leaning sites. Maybe you could point me to an unbiased source. But even if what you say is correct, I still don’t think it addresses the issue. Those in poverty tend to be lower educated, period. Upward mobility is a measure of how easy/hard it is to either educate or work your way into the middle class for those born into poverty. Access to good early nutrition and health care, along with education are critical to upward mobility.
    .
    In regards to income inequality, you don’t think that the Reagan and Bush Tax cuts had anything to do with it!? I’m not demonizing the rich, I’m just saying that given the income inequality, they are the only ones who CAN give more.

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  4. Reality Check says:

    LBR,

    It is well document that immigrants to America prior to about 1975 tended to be better educated than average Americans, and were also less likely to either go on welfare or be imprisoned. After 1975, those differences reversed. Might you think those changes affected mobility?

    Yes, income inequality has increased. The question is why? You’re side has no thoughts on the subject other than to raise taxes on the rich. Yet, this income inequality has continued for about 35 years. It appears to be unrelated to the tax code, although I’m all in favor of eliminating many deductions the rich take advantage of.

    The point is that demonizing the rich solves nothing other than possibly win the next election.

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  5. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @RC – “One doesn’t flood a country with 25 million legal and illegal immigrants over 25 years, most with poor language skills and education, and not distort mobility stats”
    .
    We’ve been having immigrants forever, and my guess is that the numbers were higher before. I’m sorry, your argument just doesn’t hold water. It is a fact that the middle class is shrinking. It is a fact that income inequality is growing. Do you deny this? It therefore follows that fewer folks are making it into the middle class, which means upward mobility is shrinking.

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  6. John says:

    @ Hammer – First, This post is about health care. Second, you need to re-read your history.

    Is it good business sense to borrow(raid) money from a fund that your employees negotiated in good faith, then claim you can’t afford to pay it back and declare the fund Broke? It’s broke because the business stole money from it! Seems pretty bad business to me. The theft was probably to cover up some bad business choice from the managers in the first place.

    Then when other businesses saw that the Feds were going to allow the fleecing of the workforce through ‘Pension Insurance Funds’ they all pushed and shoved to get in line. What happened next … profits and CEO bonuses skyrocketed. The dawn of the “SCREW the worker” era. And SURPRISE, … Look at where we are now!

    The working class works harder and longer for less wages and benefits(healthcare and retirement) while profits soar and Management cashes their bonus checks. But then I guess that’s just “GOOD BUSINESS”

    It’s absolutely criminal!

    These guys would pay you $5 a month for labor if they could get away with it. Oh wait, They already do! By outsourcing to CHINA and other nations with suppressed labor forces. Again, “GOOD BUSINESS!”

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  7. The Oracle says:

    So true, Hammer. Denying workers a reliable, predictable retirement package has saved corporations a lot of money. Paying workers low wages does too. But why stop there? There’s a century of labor laws we could reverse. We also could bring back slavery. All of these things make good, short-term business sense. Pursuing sustainable business practices is the more challenging task.

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  8. The Hammer says:

    There is a reason private enterprise dumped the pensions decades ago. Good business sense says that a pension plan will come back to haunt you if you stay in business long enough. Government just doesn’t have this good business sense. They only have the bad sense to spend, spend and spend. Now the pensions are going to haunt them forever.

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  9. Reality Check says:

    LBR,

    The U.S. offers excellent medical care for virtually everyone, including the poor if they care to avail themselves of it. What it doesn’t have is a cultural that promotes healthy living.

    One doesn’t flood a country with 25 million legal and illegal immigrants over 25 years, most with poor language skills and education, and not distort mobility stats. This makes it easy for writers like Coursey to mislead.

    If we don’t have competition in medical insurance, and we don’t, it’s because government has virtually closed the market to new entrants. We have, in effect, a government-created cartel, with companies struggling to juggle impossible demands from its critics.

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  10. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @RC – clearly the US has decent health care for those that either have good insurance or those that are wealthy. It is the poor who suffer in our system. Infant mortality has little to do with crime or obesity. Part of upward mobility is access to early age health care, and that is sorely lacking here. As was mentioned in Coursey’s last article, the ability of an impoverished child to move up to the middle class has dropped from about 1 in 2 in the 1950s to about 1 in 3 now.
    .
    In terms of whether for-profit or non-profit, different countries use different methods. You say capitalism is the best way, but that only works if you have true competition, which is not the case currently for health insurance.

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  11. unions cause cancer says:

    I heard that unions are not only responsible for budget woes, I also hear they cause cancer. Yep, cancer. Union health care costs are directly responsible for the Cotati roundabouts too. We should not allow any union member’s children to attend public schools because their benefits are already enough…blah blah blah blah blah

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  12. Reality Check says:

    LBR,

    What you cite measures the health of Americans, not the quality of U.S. medical care. The two are very different.

    Under the new measuring yardstick, if Americans are obese, exercise too little, commit more violent crime, etc., than other countries, who should get the blame? Our medical care our culture?

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  13. Reality Check says:

    @Mrs Kravitz,

    Such cynicism! Companies that become the largest and most successful have a history of attracting and keeping customers. You may not like some of their policies, that I get loud and clear. Whatever, their customers are happy and keep coming back. Above all else, capitalism is about keeping the customer happy.

    Every month 100 million Americans shop at WalMart. Your war is not against business, it’s against the choices the real 99% make.

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  14. Money Grubber says:

    Public employees should be getting social security.

    As for public employees demanding that the public cover their increasing medical costs, I thought that was what Obama-Care was all about ?

    If Obama-Care isn’t good enough, then Medic-care is good enough. After all, the Federal Government kept Medic-care as a separate program from Obama-Care. So, Medic-care must be pretty good.

    No need for public employees to get their own special program for medical care. The programs already exist.

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  15. Money Grubber says:

    Mockingbird (and others):

    I found an item in the news a couple of years ago that pretty much explained what happens when government tries to “manage” things like health care.

    Japan. Google its health care system.

    Due to government incompetence in “managing” the health care industry in Japan, a hospital room cost less than a hotel room. Dozens of hospitals were on the verge of bankruptcy when I viewed that documentary.

    I know its hard to believe. Until you realize that it was government that created the crisis.

    I literally was cheaper to find a way to get hospitalized for a night in Tokyo than it was to pay for a hotel room.

    Government cannot do anything right let alone “manage” health care and dictate prices that consumers pay.

    Do we need to discuss all the failures of government in other areas to confirm that for you?

    But this topic originally was the cost of PUBLIC EMPLOYEE HEALTH CARE and how it is rising.

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  16. Lets be Reasonable says:

    Despite having the most expensive health care system, the United States ranks last overall compared to six other industrialized countries—Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom—on measures of health system performance in five areas: quality, efficiency, access to care, equity and the ability to lead long, healthy, productive lives.
    .
    Key findings include:
    .
    On measures of quality the United States ranked 6th out of 7 countries. On two of four measures of quality—effective care and patient-centered care—the U.S. ranks in the middle (4th out of 7 countries). However, the U.S. ranks last when it comes to providing safe care, and next to last on coordinated care. U.S. patients with chronic conditions are the most likely to report being given the wrong medication or the wrong dose of their medication, and experiencing delays in being notified about an abnormal test result.
    .
    On measures of efficiency, the U.S ranked last due to low marks when it comes to spending on administrative costs, use of information technology, re-hospitalization, and duplicative medical testing. Nineteen percent of U.S. adults with chronic conditions reported they visited an emergency department for a condition that could have been treated by a regular doctor, had one been available, more than three times the rate of patients in Germany or the Netherlands (6%).
    .
    On measures of access to care, people in the U.S. have the hardest time affording the health care they need—with the U.S. ranking last on every measure of cost-related access problems. For example, 54 percent of adults with chronic conditions reported problems getting a recommended test, treatment or follow-up care because of cost. In the Netherlands, which ranked first on this measure, only 7 percent of adults with chronic conditions reported this problem.
    .
    On measures of healthy lives, the U.S. does poorly, ranking last when it comes to infant mortality and deaths before age 75 that were potentially preventable with timely access to effective health care, and second to last on healthy life expectancy at age 60.
    .
    On measures of equity, the U.S. ranks last. Among adults with chronic conditions almost half (45%) with below average incomes in the U.S. reported they went without needed care in the past year because of costs, compared with just 4 percent in the Netherlands. Lower-income U.S. adults with chronic conditions were significantly more likely than those in the six other countries surveyed to report not going to the doctor when they’re sick, not filling a prescription, or not getting recommended follow-up care because of costs.

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  17. Canthisbe says:

    For profit and non-profit health insurance companies may not be all that different as far as their customers are concerned. The “non-profit” label can be misleading. In many non-profits, the executive group is extremely well paid and shift substantial money out of the “non-prifit” to consulting firms, etc. which are connected back to the executive group in some way.

    The customer should be concerned about the cost of the insurance and the coverage provided and not confused by the profit / non-profit issue.

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  18. Mrs. Kravitz says:

    Reality Check,

    “How does a company make a profit? Doesn’t it not first have to attract and keep customers? I believe so.”

    Sometimes they get billion dollar taxpayer bailouts, offshore millions of manufacturing jobs, and use the bad economy as a reason to slash salaries and employees. Oh, and don’t forget about the multinational company tax free deal. 3 out of 4 corporations that posted profits in 2010 did so due to reduced workforce not an increase in revenue or customers.

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  19. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Money Grubber-Blue Cross Blue Shield became for profit in 1994. Kaiser, of course. We had HPR locally. There are others. Other countries have insurance policies that people can choose but they are not for profit. Not all “socialized” medicine is single payer. I used that word for your benefit.

    Reality Check-you really ought to study the health insurances available in other countries. Health should not be a for profit business, in my opinion. When profit becomes the desired end result health no longer is the focus. If you think your health insurance is there for you when you get seriously sick or injured, think again. If you can’t make the premiums it’s canceled. If you lose you job, good luck at being able to pay the premiums. If you are lucky enough to have a minimal policy you will find it will pay nothing when you are seriously sick or injured. A friend of mine’s daughter broke her femur. After the “discounted” amount to the providers on the policy the charges were brought down to below $10,000. Her deductible was $10,000 so insurance paid NOTHING. This was after she paid close to a $800 a month for the premiums. This is how insurance operates. This was a “cheap” policy.

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  20. Money Grubber says:

    Mockingbird said:

    “When health insurance became for profit is when we lost.”

    ——————-

    Tell us, Mockingbird.

    Are you saying that health insurance was ‘non profit’ at some point in its development? When was that ? Can you name a company?

    Just curious.

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  21. Juvenal says:

    “Under standard government accounting rules, the county is required to put on its books all costs and long-term liabilities associated with its retiree health care program, he said. That includes liabilities expected to be borne by the retirees.”

    I do not believe the last sentence in the above is true. GASB’s requirement to account for it OPEB (Other Post-retirement Benefits) does not include anyone’s future obligations other than the County’s.

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  22. Reality Check says:

    Mockingbird,

    How does a company make a profit? Doesn’t it not first have to attract and keep customers? I believe so.

    A restaurant is a simple but illustrative example. Do you return to dine at a restaurant that served you bad food or charged too much for what you received? Not usually.

    Successful restaurants are generally the most profitable, but in order to earn that profit they first have to please customers and keep pleasing them.

    The same applies to other businesses as well. Things get cloudy in the case of medical insurance only because new competitors are discouraged from entering the field by a maze of regulations and mandates.

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  23. Commonsense says:

    A big part of the probem is the rising cost of healthcare. And, without addressing tort reform, lack of inter-state competition and other issues, those rising costs won’t begin to be addressed. Health Insurance is based on risk assessment and the spreading of that risk over as many policy holders as can be attained. When you don’t limit the tort liability for Insurance Companies and Medical Professionals, while at the same time limiting the customer base by which that risk is lessened, then you will continue to see a rise in healthcare costs.

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  24. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Money Grubber-you say that private healthcare policies number in the thousands. Please, start listing them.

    Kaiser, Healthnet, Anthem Blue Cross, Blueshield, Cigna, Etna, anddddddddd? There are few more in this state, but the competition just isn’t there. Kaiser is the only nonprofit one in the bunch with the most services available. Some states only have ONE operating.

    When health insurance became for profit is when we lost. With huge profits the whole reason for them being in business is money NOT YOUR AND MY HEALTHCARE NO MATTER HOW MUCH WE PAY for our policies.

    Oh, and don’t forget about the huge deductibles, copays, coinsurances and all the services NOT COVERED to maximize profits at the top. Buy a cheap policy, but DON’T GET SERIOUSLY HURT OR SICK because bankruptcy will be the next on your agenda. They’ll drop you like a hot potato.

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  25. What will not be printed says:

    The unions have offered to end the 10 year retirement or the medical for those with less than 20 years. County said no. The unions don’t want 10 year employees to be eligible for retirement, but the BOS gets theirs at 8 years and upper management gets theirs at 10 so they have to keep that program alive, for themselves. The unions have asked repeatedly to go to cheaper health insurance to lower everyone’s costs, the county said no. The unions proposes a medical health retirement savings program that would have eventually eliminated the county’s retiree helth costs, the county said no. The unions are not the problem here. They have been offering solutions since 2007 because they see what is happening. Now they are the problem, they are the scourge, the thieves. Great. You WILL be paying more unless the county can be made to listen to reason. It hasn’t happened yet. Time will tell.

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  26. Money Grubber says:

    John stated:

    ————-

    “I personaly know of one who makes well over $500k/year (the 1%)in salary and bonuses. For being a good salesman. Since when is the salesman of the parts more valued than the doctor who installs them?”

    And THEN says,

    “I’m all for a free market.”

    ———–

    Yes, John, we can see you’re “all for a free market” when you attempt to dictate what is a fair salary vs. what you consider to be unfair.

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  27. Follower says:

    @ Oracle

    LAWYERS!
    THAT is “who is profiting” and they have been for years.
    LAWYERS are the reason our Health Care costs have skyrocket over the last 40+/- years.

    Does anyone remember when your Doctor would come to your home?
    Does anyone remember when your Doctor would take payments?
    Does anyone remember when the thought of seeing someone other than the same family Doctor who delivered you from your Mother’s womb was inconceivable?

    Does anyone remember when your Doctor saw you as a customer rather than a potential Mal Practice law suit?

    Does anyone remember when the price you paid for a band aid at the hospital was the same price you paid at the drug store?

    What happened?
    LAWYERS!

    The REAL crime is that Obama-Care not only does NOTHING to reign in the Legal costs that have become a daily routine in Health Care, it makes sure there will be a bottomless pit of cash for all the Lawyers to enjoy.
    It encourages MORE Lawsuits witch will only guarantee that Health Care costs rise faster than they ever have.

    Why is this so hard to see?

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  28. John says:

    @ Money G – I always expect your posts to go to pensions so your apology is a little hard to believe as genuine.

    The claim that there are many insurance companies to CHOOSE from shows your intent to distort facts even more. Yes we have a choice but of what? The lesser of evils? And thousands of CHOICES? Where?

    Insurance policies are all expensive in part because medical supply sales people are allowed to write off massive expenses such as entertaining doctors. These “FAVORS” get doctors to purchase products from limited suppliers who then charge ridiculous amounts while paying their successful employees very large salaries and bonuses. I personaly know of one who makes well over $500k/year (the 1%)in salary and bonuses. For being a good salesman. Since when is the salesman of the parts more valued than the doctor who installs them? I’m all for a free market but this is just one example of how you purposely choose to present only a small pieces of information and are exceedingly willing to ‘forget’ facts and issues that don’t relate to public employees and their pensions.

    You are hard to take seriously when you so obviously turn a blind eye to that which doesn’t benefit your claims. You make it obvious in your last post. You absolutely can’t resist attacking pensions no matter the subject at hand.

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  29. Soon to be laid off County Worker says:

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the retiree medical cost will rise over the “goal” of 7.5% when you see since 2009 the number of retirees was 3558 with 4103 actives and the latest from SCERA shows 4001 retirees and 3565 actives.

    When you have a cap of $6000/retiree medical and increase the number of retirees by 443 x $6K = $2,658,000; then when you have a reduction of 438 actives, with a “slight” reduction in payroll…of course the percentage will continue to increase.

    The simple truth is that the boomers have NOT set aside enough each year to cover their retirement benefit, negotiated between themselves (even with over $1 Billion in Pension Obligation Bond debt-principle and interest). Now cut services and we can’t hire the next generation of workers as the boomers retire AND we are laying off younger workers as a consequence.

    It’s like the mayor of San Jose said recently in the Press Democrat, we will eventually end up with one worker collecting taxes and paying pensions. I work for the County of Sonoma, most of the younger workers pay a huge amount toward retirement and we know we will never see it as it will be sucked dry by the current generation that has gamed the system.

    Don’t kill the messenger, i.e. the Press Democrat, for shining a light on the problem, they should be commended.

    The solution for me would be a buyout coverting my past and future service to a 401K; so at least when this fiscal disaster collapses I’ll have something left for all my sacrifice; not just a bunch of unfunded promises due for me twenty some years down the road.

    p.s. Should we really be giving people lifetime medical after working for the County ten years and retiring at 50?

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  30. The Oracle says:

    MoneyGruber is 100% right to attack public employees with oversimplified sweeping claims. Who cares if the average public employee’s total compensation remains less than analogous employees in the private sector. Who cares if most pay reasonable contributions toward their pensions. Who cares if public pension funds are highly regulated, and can invest only in AAA stocks. Who cares if the financial sector fraudulantly rated stocks at AAA, causing public pension funds to loss billions. We don’t care. We want to demonize public employees.

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  31. truth in news says:

    Once again the PD is fanning the flames without giving a complete picture of what county employees pay towards their retirement and medical. The county funds matching employee contributions is a joke at best. If you want to “follow the money” look at jokers like Bob Dias and the money he will retire with after his short career with the county. As for taxs, look at Woolseys retirement and perks. Quit going after the folks still cleaning the gutters and making sure things work.

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  32. doodles says:

    The PD has connected the wrong dots…..the rising cost of employee healthcare is a NATIONAL problem, and not unique to this county or its employees. To imply that Sonoma County is in the challenging position of containing health care costs simply because of its retirees or employees is misleading, at best. It’s easy to focus on the bottom line and demand that county employees have their benefits taken away…but I ask, how many of you demand your elected representatives keep their budget-cutting paws off Social Security or MediCare? They have the same fiscal problems because of an aging population and medical advances that keep us all living longer—and receiving benefits. But we would probably have riots in the streets by seniors if the rest of us demanded those benefits be cut back to balance the budget. Until we find ways to improve our health and prevent chronic disease that helps us avoid expensive care in the first place, will we see costs continue to spiral out of control. Did you read the other story in the PD about Parks passes for sale? Gettign out and walking would be a good start. Too bad the PD missed the point of that story too.

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  33. Money Grubber says:

    Clairification:

    I mixed topics in my post.

    I apologize.

    I should not have included public pensions in my response.

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  34. Money Grubber says:

    John,

    The difference that you either can not understand or intentionally refuse to acknowledge is that:

    Private health care policies number in the thousands and consumers have a choice of any or all of them. A CHOICE.

    On the other hand, public pensions are funded, ONLY PARTLY, and are unsustainable. Public employees scream that they do not want to contribute more to their own retirement and yet the UNDER funding problem is laid upon the taxpayers.

    And since the public employees refuse to pony up their full share of the costs, yes, the government steals from the taxpayers to make up the difference.

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  35. The Oracle says:

    Who is profiting and when will the PD report on that?

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  36. John says:

    This thread will surely be filled with complaints about the county government What you wont read here are any complaints about the ever raising cost of Health Insurance/Health Care. .(because these people can’t say anything bad about private industry stealing your money)

    Both need attention!

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  37. Joyce Garcia says:

    What ya really worried about Shirley Z? Maybe the fact that you may have to start putting aside a nest egg for your retirement? What you should be worried about is you NEED to learn how to stop spending TAXPAYERS money PERIOD! These unsustainable ideas you have don’t work on paper and you are facing the results of that fact!

    Grow up, man up and start acting like a leader rather than royalty that you will never be!

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  38. Money Grubber says:

    Shirlee Zane, called “disappointing”
    “It’s frustrating,” Zane.

    ——————

    NOTE TO THE VOTERS:

    Now, immediately, is the time for the cities of Sonoma County and the County itself to freeze spending and engage reductions in spending.

    But, government being government, they don’t know how to do that. They refuse. They say “lets wait and see what happens.”

    They secretly think that they will raise taxes upon the public to cover their financial mistakes.

    And this is why a voter sponsored ballot initiative has just qualified for circulation within California to end the full time state legislature and replace it with a PART TIME entity that only meets a few months each year.

    Government has proven itself to be incapable of making logical decisions and acting in a logical manner with expediency.

    We need to reshape Sonoma County government as well and make them part time because they clearly JUST DON’T GET IT when it comes to managing the money they steal from us. They never think well in advance. Its always, always, always crisis mode and what to do AFTER the finances crumble.

    And, of course, we all witness that the first act they always engage in is to ensure their public pensions are okay before they worry about any other aspect of government operations.

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  39. John T says:

    I don’t know who is more out of touch, the Press Democrat, or Shirley Zane.

    Lately, every year the health care insurance folks have been exacting high single digit and double digit premium increases. In that context, only a fool would believe health care costs for the County will decrease.

    I’ll believe the Board of Sups is serious about reducing County health care and retirement costs when they subject their fat benefit packages to the same rules as those applied to the average County employee.

    “Already the county is behind about $30 million in annual required retiree health insurance contributions over the past three years, the report showed.”

    There’s responsible leadership for you, just another bunch of politicians kicking the can down the road while at the same time being “surprised” and concerned about cost increases that a 5th grader could have predicted.

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