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Paul Feely's City Hall: Manchester health care costs down for now

November 06. 2016 1:08AM

Insurance representatives told city lawmakers last week that Manchester has bucked the trend of rising health care costs - but don't get used to it.

Anthem executives, in a presentation detailing utilization of its fiscal year 2016 health insurance plan, said overall costs were lower than expected, down nearly $700,000. That goes against trends the company is seeing in other businesses, where costs were up by 8 percent, said Anthem's Arlene Fishbein.

The top reason given for the decline was a 27 percent decrease in the number of high-dollar claims - claims over $75,000 - with 22 coming in FY'16 compared to 30 in FY'15.

Emergency room costs increased 18.6 percent, with 45 more visits and 402 more services provided in FY'16 than in FY'15. Pharmacy plan costs increased 1.5 percent to $3.9 million, with the cost of a prescription rising 4.5 percent.

Employees drove 41.8 percent of the health insurance costs, with spouses accounting for 41.6 percent of the costs and children 16.6 percent.

The presentation concluded with the caution that claims data from this past July, August and September already shows an upward trend compared to the same three month span in 2015, and Anthem believes the downward trend in costs the city enjoyed is unlikely to continue.

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Were you left wondering why that proposed three-year contract with the Manchester Association of Police Supervisors (MPAS) was never taken off the table by city aldermen last week? Judging by the number of police supervisors in attendance at last Tuesday's board meeting at City Hall, you weren't the only ones expecting another vote.

So why was it left on the table for at least another two weeks? Absentee aldermen.

Board members approved the contract back on Oct. 18 on a 9-4 vote, with Aldermen Kevin Cavanaugh, Ron Ludwig, Chris Herbert, Nick Pappas, Dan O'Neil, Barbara Shaw, Bill Barry, Normand Gamache and Keith Hirschmann in favor and Pat Long, Tony Sapienza, Joseph Kelly Levasseur and Bill Shea opposed. Alderman Tom Katsiantonis of Ward 8 was absent for the vote.

Mayor Ted Gatsas vetoed the deal, saying it would be "impossible" to afford without overriding the city's tax cap. Alderman At Large Dan O'Neil made a motion to override the veto, but the motion failed on a 9-4 vote - one vote shy of the 10 needed to override.

While Katsiantonis was in attendance for last week's session, Ludwig and Herbert - who both voted in favor of the deal last month - were not. Aldermen who support the contract opted to wait until the full board is seated before taking it off the table. The next full board meeting is scheduled for Nov.15.

The contract is projected to increase salaries by more than $800,000 over the next three years, and includes a 1 percent salary increase in FY 2017 - retroactive to July 1, 2016 - and three percent salary hikes effective July 1, 2017 and July 1, 2018.

The MPAS contract includes severance pay of $10,000 to any member with 20 years of service, 10 of which are with the city of Manchester. The contract also includes a critical incident pay of an additional $40 per week effective Jan. 1, 2017. That amount jumps to $50 per week effective Jan. 1, 2018. The contract specifies the benefit is included in recognition of "increasingly hazardous working conditions, including the proliferation of violence against police officers, the increased frequency of critical incidents," and the heroin epidemic.

According to a financial analysis of the contract provided to aldermen prior to the Oct. 18 vote, the financial impact of the deal in FY 2017 is projected at $149,046. The financial hit becomes greater in FY 2018 at $368,753, and an additional $307,717 in FY 2019.

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Fifth-graders at the Green Acres and Parker-Varney elementary schools are participating in the Drug Enforcement Administration's Youth Dance Program, a national project designed to educate students after school about drug prevention through the arts at no cost to students or their schools. Classroom goals include using positive themes like:
  • Participating in positive alternatives to drugs and gang violence
  • Building of self-esteem, teamwork
  • Resisting negative peer pressure
  • Focusing on positive health and attitude

A professional dance team will teach weekly classes at each school for 18 weeks. The DEA Youth Dance Program has served thousands of students in cities around the country since 2012.

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Finally, City Hall will be closed two days this week - Tuesday, as residents across the Queen City head to their local polling locations to cast ballots in the general election, and again on Friday, in observance of Veterans Day.

Polls will be open in Manchester on Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. City Clerk Matt Normand reports there are 59,686 registered voters in the Queen City - 20,297 Democrats, 16,726 Republicans, and 22,663 undeclared.

Staff reporter Paul Feely covers Manchester City Hall for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News.

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