PITTSFIELD — The City Council wants an update on a Blue Cross-Blue Shield health insurance contract for employees and retirees that proved controversial when it was implemented by former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi in 2014 without input from the council.
Councilors also approved on Tuesday the appointment of four officers within the city Fire Department.
Council Vice President John Krol proposed the insurance review, and the issue was referred unanimously to the council's Finance Committee, which will invite BC/BS representatives to a meeting on May 16.
"I think many of us were disappointed in the way this was rolled out," Krol said, citing a lack of review by the council.
After Bianchi had announced the deal, which he said was expected to result in considerable savings for the city, the mayor and BC/BS representatives appeared before the council in October 2014 to field questions.
At the time, there were few details on overall costs under the three-year contract, which took effect on July 1, 2015, Krol said, and he would like to hear an update based on cost data since that time.
"It is just a good thing to shed some light on these costs," he said, adding that insurance costs amount to some 10 to 15 percent of the city budget.
Krol added on Wednesday that he is not contending the deal was a bad one for the city, but that such a large expense in the budget should be fully vetted, perhaps on an annual basis.
Prior to the current contract, the Group Insurance Commission had provided health insurance coverage since 2009.
Former Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, who was involved in the change from Blue Cross to GIC, said that switch involved a number of televised meetings and a communitywide discussion.
"I find it unacceptable that we were not informed," he said during an October 2014 meeting.
Bianchi said the insurance switch had been discussed during the spring and early summer of 2014 with the city's Public Employees Commission, which consists of about 15 representatives from city and school unions and the retirees. He added that the decision to change to BC/BS was administrative in nature and did not require council approval, and that a timely decision was required.
The chance presented itself to realize considerable savings for the city without reducing health coverage for employees and retirees, he told councilors.
However, Lothrop expressed concern that the premium costs of the agreement for the final year of the contract could allow for premium increases for the city. He also said GIC had kept insurance cost hikes low and became the city's carrier following a series of significant increases.
The estimated savings to the city was estimated by the Bianchi administration at from $2 million to $2.5 million over three years.
The Blue Cross plans were offered to the city through the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association, which also is the city's liability insurance carrier.
About 1,100 employees are enrolled in the city's insurance plans, and about 1,000 retirees or their survivors who receive Medicare supplemental coverage.
On Tuesday, the council also approved the appointment of Timothy Miller and Neil Myers as captains in the Pittsfield Fire Department, and Randolph Stein and Tony Campbell as lieutenants in the department.
Also appointed by Mayor Linda M. Tyer were Mark Kennedy to the Human Rights Commission, Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli to the Council on Aging, and Francis Curley Jr. to the Sister Cities Commission.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.