Friday, April 13, 2001

Health costs at UK out of sight

By Steve Bailey
The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — Deborah Florez was 22 years old when she began working at the University of Kentucky.

        Now, 13 years later, she loves her work in building operations, is married and has a beautiful 22-month-old baby. But she's scared to death she no longer can afford to cover her family under her UK-sponsored heath insurance plan.

        “I've been paying health care costs the last two years that are more than my house payment, and they're still going up,” Ms. Florez told several hundred faculty, staff members and students during a lunchtime rally Thursday to speak out on proposed 30 percent to 40 percent increases in the school's health care plans for spouses and children.

        “If these premiums stay the way they are, I'm going to have to drop my husband and my baby and just pray for the best. Nobody should have to do that.”

        Under a new rate schedule released two weeks ago, the university will continue to pay the yearly cost — $206 — for a single employee to receive health care coverage under the basic UK-HMO Lexington/Regional Service Area plan.

        But beginning in June:

        • The cost to an individual for the plan's employee-child package will increase from the $172.30 a month paid during the 2000-01 fiscal year to $246.00 for the 2001-02 fiscal year — an increase of $73.70 monthly or $884 annually.

        • The cost for the employee-spouse plan will rise from $227.56 to $329 — an increase of $101.44 per month or $1,217 annually.

        • The cost for the employee-family plan will increase from $363.96 to $488 — a jump of $122.04 per month or $1,464.48 annually.

        A proposed raise of 4 percent for an employee making $35,000 a year will generate only $1,400 in added income before taxes. Many employees make much less, as little as $15,000 to $18,000 per year.

        “Like a lot of other people around here, I'm just a simple man who doesn't make a lot of money but is trying to support my wife and child,” said 32-year-old William Young, who has worked as a water quality technician for the past five years.

        During the two-hour rally, dozens of staff members told the crowd how the rate increases were going to put a serious strain on their financial security. Many wore children's Band-Aids sporting images of Winnie the Pooh, Elmo and Bugs Bunny to express their solidarity.

        Afterward, Russ Williams, the staff representative to the board of trustees, delivered petitions bearing 6,788 signatures asking President Charles T. Wethington to “give relief to the staff and faculty through an increased university contribution toward our health insurance coverage.”

        Mr. Wethington was not in his office when Mr. Williams arrived with the petitions and did not return calls seeking comment. Mr. Williams said he would schedule an appointment with Mr. Wethington to deliver the petitions in person.

        Since the rate increases initially were brought up at last week's trustees' meeting, Mr. Wethington has asked the school's Employee Benefits Committee to review the situation and recommend ways to ease the burden on faculty and staff, Mr. Williams said.

        “If we can't get something reasonable or affordable, I will vote against next year's proposed budget and urge other trustees to do the same,” Mr. Williams said.


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