Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw says the benefit, which does include a $10- copay and an opt in for certain union members, is in his words "luxury" spending that the county can ill afford.
Mychajliw discussed the audit on Hardline, the WBEN Politics program (10a-12noon) Sunday
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Erie County Comptoller
Here's the announcement from Mychajliw's office, followed by the official statement from County Exec. Mark Poloncarz
Review by the Office of Erie County Comptroller shows taxpayers shelled out big bucks over a four-year period so employees could receive massages and acupuncture
(Buffalo) – Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw released the findings of a review that shows taxpayers were billed $1.4 million over a four-year period so that Erie County workers could receive massages and acupuncture. The review itself began when the newly elected Comptroller received his medical benefit package prior to taking office on January 1st, 2013.
Erie County employees are entitled to 12 massages and six acupuncture sessions per year. Both benefits are covered by health insurance, with the exception of a minimal $8 or $10 co-pay.
“Before taking office I met with benefits representatives. They handed me a list of massage therapists and acupuncturists. I was told these perks were pretty much fully covered by a county health insurance plan. Hard working taxpayers should not have to pay for massages and acupuncture. For most folks, these are luxury benefits,” said Comptroller Mychajliw.
“My elderly parents live down the street from me in Kaisertown. They are on a fixed income and struggle to pay bills. Their limited income should not pay for workers to receive massages and acupuncture,” added Comptroller Mychajliw.
Erie County started the year facing a cash shortage and did not have enough money to pay bills. An estimated $34 million cash deficit was identified on the first day of 2013. An initial analysis shows Erie County will be forced to borrow $110 million in 2013 just to pay bills, a high borrowing figure not seen since the Red/Green Budget crisis years of 2005 and 2006.
“Every penny counts in the county budget. Multiple ways to save could add up to property tax relief for struggling homeowners. We could put more Sheriff’s Road Patrol officers on the street. More Corrections Officers could be hired at the Holding Center. Library supporters and Arts and Cultural groups are practically forced to beg for funds every year,” concluded the Erie County Comptroller.
The recently negotiated CSEA contract eliminated this massage and acupuncture perk for newly hired Corrections Offices starting on or after January 1st, 2013.
When considering the potential annual cost savings of $340,000 if these services were to be eliminated, our office will commence an audit on the overall cost of medical insurance provided to employees and retirees, how the cost of these health care benefits compare to those found in the private sector, if potential savings can be warranted, and the fiscal impact of the Affordable Care Act as it pertains to future budgets.
And From County Exec. Mark Poloncarz:
Statement of the Erie County Executive Regarding Certain Medical Services Provided to County Employees Under Existing Union Contracts
Poloncarz has Been Negotiating new Union Contracts to Address Significant Growing Health Costs
County Executive Thanks Mychajliw for Supporting his Health Insurance Savings Approach
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz today issued the following statement regarding comments concerning acupuncture and massage benefits provided to certain County employees under union contracts which he inherited from prior administrations.
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The new Erie County Comptroller issued a two page “memorandum” today announcing the costs of acupuncture and massage services provided to Erie County employees between 2009 and 2012. Having not been provided a copy of the memorandum, I cannot attest to the accuracy of the Comptroller’s findings. However, I am pleased that the Comptroller agrees with the Legislature and I and has joined us in expressing concern over the growing cost of health care for Erie County government. I have been diligently working on this issue since I took office one year ago and I am pleased to see that he supports my efforts to reduce the costs of health insurance for the County through changes in new union contracts.
In 2012, my administration inherited eight (8) lapsed collective bargaining agreements and we immediately began negotiating with the unions to develop new contracts in which union employees begin paying for some of the cost of health insurance, or they will move to a lower-cost health insurance plan (Value Plan) to reduce expense. We successfully reached agreements with the CSEA Correction Officers unit and Teamsters unit in the Sheriff’s Division of Jail Management in which existing employees will pay for health insurance for the first time since 2003 and new hires will not receive 100% County paid health insurance upon retirement. These were tremendous financial successes for the County with significant savings in the future.
We successfully reached a new contract with the CSEA Correction Officers unit in which all new employees will participate in the County’s Value health insurance plan in which acupuncture and massage services are not covered by the County.
Unfortunately, negotiated agreements with the CSEA white collar unit in which CSEA members would have paid a portion of the costs of their health insurance failed ratification. In addition, an agreement with the Sheriff PBA unit representing sworn sheriff deputies in which they would have moved to the Value Plan (and not received acupuncture and massage services at County expense) failed when the membership voted down the contract.
The acupuncture and massage services included in the County’s Core and Enhanced health insurance plans were negotiated by then-County Executive Joel Giambra in 2003 when he persuaded County unions to move to a single health insurance provider. While the Comptroller appears to be criticizing the 2003 agreement’s provisions, for the record, the movement to a single health insurance provider reduced the County’s health care expenses by millions from the previous arrangements, even with the inclusion of the massage and acupuncture provisions.
It should be noted, under the Triborough Amendment of the Taylor Law, the County is not legally allowed to amend the terms of any union contract after it has lapsed until a new contract is ratified. Due to this State law, the County cannot unilaterally take away acupuncture or massage services from existing union contracts.
Finally, I would further note that unlike some other municipal governments, Erie County does not and will not offer any health insurance benefits such as plastic surgery or other questionable benefits.