Lubbock county employees are bracing for increases to their health insurance premiums.
The county says the change comes from the rising cost of health care, but employees argue that the hikes are unmanageable and came without notice.
County commissioners say they were forced to wait on results from a consultant study of employee insurance claims from last year.
Those results didn't come until last week.
Employees say the new coverage plans are more expensive and more limited than their previous coverage.
More than 1,000 people work for Lubbock County.
Sheriff Kelly Rowe employs more than any other department. He's concerned for his employees' welfare.
"This is in the thousands of dollars per year per employee depending on the decisions they make for their families," Rowe said.
Lubbock County Human Resources Director Greg George says they haven't raised premiums since 2005.
"It's just like in a restaurant when the price of an avocado gets really high and they don't pass the cost on to the consumer until they have to. We're really at that point," George said.
Commissioner Bill McCay says employee insurance claims increased 286 percent over the past 5 years and the new options will be better in the long run.
"The previous provider was a more expensive option for the county and for the employees," McCay said.
Rowe says he's worried about his employees' financial well-being in this economy.
"To jump this dramatically - to be looking at, in some cases, three and four-hundred dollar a month decreases [in their take-home pay] in order to cover these insurance costs - that's significant. That's a car payment."
George says one of the plans offers nearly all the same doctors and services - but that plan costs more. The cheapest option is called team choice.
"Every specialist service that they could get in Lubbock is offered through team choice," George said.
But team choice may not offer the same doctors that employees are used to. So what about those in the middle of extended care - like for a pregnancy?
"Lubbock County is going to provide that transition of care along with Aetna to make sure they can still get the benefit of being in a lower cost plan and not have to change doctors at this really important time in their life," George said.
Rowe says the next few weeks will be difficult as his employees try to figure out if they'll be able to afford the new plans, but the county will listen to concerns.
"We'll answer questions until they feel good about it," George said.
County officials say they hope to improve their communications with the employees by going out and explaining the changes to folks before they go into effect in January.
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