National health care crisis comes home to roost in Hamtramck

Hamtramck’s City Council acted more like the Grinch than Santa at its last meeting for 2011.

That’s when councilmembers (except for Cathie Gordon) voted to really sock it to the city’s police force.

Police officers are now being forced to pay for almost all of their own health insurance, and for many of them it’s going to likely break the bank. Get this: For single coverage, the cost is $3,800 a year; for an officer and their spouse, it’s going to cost $8,900 and for family coverage – get ready – they have to fork over $10,600.

The average officer earns $62,000 a year. New-hires earn about $47,000 a year.

Officers are extremely upset, and they have filed an Unfair Labor practice claim against the city since contract negotiations are still ongoing.

On the one hand, we understand the council is in a jam to wipe out a $3 million budget deficit. There aren’t too many other places to cut in the budget except for public safety.

Firefighters can’t be touched because they have a contract that’s good through 2014.

But on the other hand, we have heard from both sides of this debate that the city had a much less expensive proposal that all sides agreed to at one time. According to the officers, city contract negotiators abruptly changed their mind and decided to play hardball with this new proposal.

We’re not sure exactly what’s what since there is plenty of posturing going on over new contract terms.

We know one thing: As much as it appears despicable to force this cost onto officers, this is the reality of today for many working families.

Employers have been rolling back health benefits for several years now, mostly because of escalating insurance costs.

Many families have even lost their health insurance because their employers simply can’t afford to pitch in anything. There are 45 million Americans who are entirely without health coverage.

This is a national crisis as much as it is a local one.

Many cities simply have nowhere to turn to balance their budgets. Hamtramck city officials need to find a way to figure out this budget mess without appearing to be punishing our employees – especially when it comes to public safety.

While we have no crystal ball, it appears times are going to get tougher, not better any time soon.

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