• September 22, 2019

County considers cash in lieu of benefits - Odessa American: Local News

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County considers cash in lieu of benefits

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Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2019 4:14 pm

Increasing take-home pay has become a priority for Ector County to attract and retain employees, but some county commissioners are worried that the consequences of one proposal may outweigh the benefits.

The Commissioners’ Court is in the process of deciding whether or not they will allow county employees to opt out of insurance coverage in exchange for a monthly stipend.

The topic was brought up during a regularly scheduled meeting last week and discussion kept circling back to the need to compete against the higher wages offered with oil and gas industry jobs.

“People leaving us on patrol to go to the oilfield or leaving the jail to go to the oilfield, that’s what hurts us,” Ector County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sgt. Gary Duesler said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons said the idea of rewarding employees for foregoing county provided health and dental insurance was an odd approach to the problem at hand.

“It seems strange that we would reward our employees to do something that could hurt them if they don’t have insurance, but I realize today’s younger workforce is not as interested in retirement and health insurance as they are in take-home pay,” Simmons said.

Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis said younger hires joining his office are focused on how much money is going into their bank accounts to pay for necessities like rent and other living expenses. He said this policy change could be used as a recruitment tool to entice more applicants by putting more money in the pockets of county employees if they select to receive a stipend.

Simmons said the temptation for an employee to take that gamble with their health to add a few hundred dollars to their monthly income could be financially devastating.

Ector County Human Resources Director Pat Patton said if an individual were suddenly in a car accident, they could not then select to have insurance coverage; those choices could only be made during open enrollment periods.

Employees would still have some degree of health care with access through the county’s employee wellness clinic, and they would also be required to undergo an annual health risk assessment within 60 days of opting out.

Patton said the assessment would provide a screening for any arising health issues an employee may face such as high blood pressure or prediabetes.

“We would not be inviting family members to the health clinic, only the employees themselves,” Patton said.

If approved by the county, this change could require clinic hours to be increased to accommodate more employees utilizing the facility. The county’s human resources director said summer is a slow time for the clinic with only about 67 percent of available appointments taken during the month of June, but she said the number of appointments will spike during the cold and flu season.

Patton said the added personnel and supply cost would likely still be lower for the county than if staff members went to a doctor’s office and submitted a claim on the county’s health insurance.

Officials will continue the discussion while next year’s budget is in the works to determine the best course of action and what will attract more employees.

Odessa, TX

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