Some Lancaster County municipalities cover health insurance for elected officials

By on February 22, 2017

ER20170222_COC East Cocalic

East Cocalico supervisors get most lucrative benefits

By some measures, elected officials at the local level have thankless jobs.

They spend their time working for the betterment of their townships and boroughs and receive meager stipends or no pay at all, and they often face a public that scrutinizes or is critical of their every move.

But the job has its rewards — including a little-known and in some cases lucrative perk that has likely cost taxpayers in Lancaster County millions of dollars over the past couple of decades: free health insurance.

Township supervisors and borough council members in the state can get municipal health care coverage or have their own private insurance paid for by local governments under a 1995 provision of Pennsylvania law.

While few elected officials here and across the state take advantage of the benefit, some do — to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in coverage a year per person.

The perk for officials who attend a meeting or two every month outrages some taxpayers, particularly because insurance premiums are spiking and health care is costly and has become out of reach for many.

“I think it’s egregious,” said Jeff Mitchell, an East Cocalico Township farmer who pays for his own health insurance.

East Cocalico Township pays for health insurance for its three elected supervisors, Douglas B. Mackley, Alan R. Fry, and Noelle B. Fortna.

The cost to taxpayers this year: about $87,000.

None of the supervisors could be reached for comment about the benefit. And it’s only a small portion of the township’s $5.4 million budget for 2017, representing less than $9 in taxes on each one of the 10,000 some residents of the northeast Lancaster County municipality.

But it’s the most lucrative health insurance plan for elected officials at the local level here, covering medical, dental, and vision — the same coverage it provides for employees and staff of East Cocalico. And critics argue it’s $87,000 in unnecessary spending.

Interim township manager Steve Gabriel said the township has been providing health insurance for its supervisors since the 1990s. And it is not the only municipality to do so.

In all, eight townships and the City of Lancaster provide health insurance for elected officials — a small portion of the 60 municipalities here. School board members are not eligible to get medical insurance this way.

Amy Sturges, director of governmental affairs for the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Commissioners, said only a small number of the 92 first-class townships offer health benefits to their boards.

“It’s expensive and many officials have a job that provides insurance,” she said. “So it’s up to the community, to the township, whether or not to provide it based on the feelings of the board.”

In Manheim Township, Lancaster’s largest suburb, Commissioner Sam Mecum accepts the coverage. He said it’s a high-deductible plan that serves him well. Medicare provides him with secondary coverage.

“The amount of work we do as first-class commissioners would justify it,” Mecum said. “It’s a fairly good perk for part-time employees, and we’re very grateful that it exists.”

Township officials were unable to provide the value of the coverage to LNP last week or say how many members of the five-member board accept the coverage.

In Rapho Township, supervisors can receive insurance coverage

Rapho Township Supervisor Lowell Fry said he does not receive health insurance or health-cost reimbursement through the township, and never has, contrary to what was reported in a previous version of this article. The township’s other two supervisors, Duane Martin and Jere Swarr, do receive coverage, township manager Sara Gibson confirmed Monday.

According to the township’s 2017 budget, $45,983 is allocated for insurance for the township’s governing body.

In neighboring East Donegal Township, supervisors also receive health insurance coverage, but the specific cost is a little less clear. That’s because the three supervisors are among 26 participants who receive health coverage through a township plan that is budgeted to cost $409,975 in 2017. That would work out to $15,768 per participant, if the cost was the same for each one.

Jeffrey L. Butler, East Donegal manager, said supervisors have been offered health coverage for many years and no one has turned it down for at least the past 10 years.

In Providence and Conoy townships, supervisors do not receive health insurance but there is some limited reimbursement. Providence reimburses each of its three supervisors up to $2,000 for doctor copays and dental, vision and prescription costs, according to Vicki L. Eldridge, the township manager.

Conoy provides dental coverage, at a cost of about $59 per month, for one supervisor who is also an on-call employee, said Kathy M. Hipple, the township’s assistant secretary-treasurer.

In Clay Township, only two supervisors have chosen to be covered under the township’s health care plan at a cost to the township of about $7,000 each per year.

Upper Leacock Township does not pay major medical insurance for their supervisors but provides them a supplemental insurance policy that costs the township $2,856 per year for all three supervisors.

In Lancaster city, three elected officials — two council members and a row officer — elect to be covered under the city’s health insurance. Because the city is self-insured, the costs are based on actual claims.

Asked to provide a value of the coverage for those three officials, the city said it is roughly $49,286 this year.

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