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County should make a better health care deal

Jackson County commissioners last week rejected a proposal that could save my life.

I work as a receptionist for the county, and I’m one of the 460 county employees covered by our health care plan. Five years ago, my husband had a heart attack, and the costs nearly ruined us. It took us more than two years, making payments of $200 per month to the hospital, to pay back the deductible and other out-of-pocket costs. I make $37,000 per year; $200 a month means a lot to me.

My husband is now retired and living on a fixed income. If we had situation like that happen today, God forbid, we wouldn’t be able to afford the bills. I don’t know what we would do.

That’s why I support the PEBB deal, which would put Jackson County employees into a statewide insurance pool with other public employees from all over Oregon. By increasing the size of the pool, we can afford to buy a better health care plan at a lower cost. The PEBB deal would save taxpayers in Jackson County $920,000 per year.

If you had the chance to provide better health care to hundreds of people and save nearly a million dollars, you would take it, wouldn’t you?

Amazingly, Jackson County commissioners said no to the deal. Their argument is that they don’t want to lose control. They worry that handing control over to the Public Employee Benefits Board, which is a statewide labor-management board that provides benefits to more than 140,000 Oregonians, would mean the state could change the plans in the future and they wouldn’t have a say. That argument makes sense if local officials are doing a good job, but they aren’t. Plus, PEBB’s costs are legally capped at 3.4 percent growth per year — much lower than the 7 percent cost growth that the average American health care plan sees each year.

Many of my colleagues skip trips to the doctor or go without prescriptions because they can’t afford the bills. This puts them and their families at risk. Jackson County employees regularly leave their jobs for better positions at the city of Medford, the city of Ashland or in the private sector. That turnover harms everyone by taking skilled, experienced people out of public service jobs that serve our community.

If you think Jackson County commissioners should make good use of tax dollars, you should support the PEBB deal. If you think county employees should have a health care plan they can actually afford to use, you should support the PEBB deal.

I live my life in fear of what might happen the next time my husband or I get sick. That’s no way to live. Let’s take the PEBB deal. It’s a win-win.

Laurie Gallo lives in Phoenix.