Health insurance

Central Huron Ambulance Board Approves Employee Health Insurance

Central Huron Ambulance hopes to be able to attract more employees by offering something that has been discussed for four years: health insurance.

The 11 voting members present approved the provision of health, medical and dental insurance to Central Huron employees at their January meeting.

Board member Kevin Richardson previously said the board is considering offering these benefits to help attract and retain employees, with board chairman Mike Smalley adding that Central Huron wants to be an attractive employer.

“It’s hard to go without benefits these days,” Smalley said.

The average EMT working for Central Huron earns $13 per hour.

Tim Zurek, the manager of Central Huron, has previously said the salary offered isn’t ideal for raising a family, and worker shortages have meant only two paramedics are on call at times.

The insurance will also be reviewed every 12 months to determine what the prices are, what the services provided do to Central Huron’s revenue and whether deductibles need to be increased.

Zurek said if the spouse of a Central Huron employee has health insurance through their employer, they should get it through them, not Central Huron.

“We just make sure we don’t pay more than necessary,” Zurek said.

During their meeting, Dianne Maschke, a member of the board of directors, suggested doubling the subsidy that the service receives from each municipality served, from $5 per person to $10 per person. His reasoning was that since 1996, the subsidy Central Huron receives from its coverage area has only increased once, from $3 to $5, and that people understand the importance of ambulance service.

The grant that comes from each municipality is a certain amount for each person who lives there, with Richardson previously saying that the $5 grants for each person in Central Huron’s coverage area is only 4% of his budget.

The proposal passed by a vote of 6 to 5. It is expected to net Central Huron an additional $83,000 once it collects bill payments from the 13 municipalities it serves in April.

Smalley was against approving the measure at the meeting, as he wanted members to present it to their respective municipalities to get their input first. Other board members who voted no felt the same way.

Maschke mentioned that Port Austin Village Council would be willing to pay more for ambulance service, with other council members agreeing.

Smalley said that as a result of this decision, Zurek cannot hire anyone he wants. He needs to come to the board first to explain why he needs more employees, given that it’s more of a financial liability.

The 12 eligible employees would have a 20% co-pay requiring them to cover $1,459.91 in total of their insurance per month, which would come from their paychecks. Central Huron would receive a monthly bill of $5,839.62 covering the remainder of the monthly medical premium.

Insurance is provided by Blue Cross through Haley Ward & Associates of Bad Axe. The plans come into effect on February 1.

Smalley said it was something the board talked about doing for the past four years, even before he joined the board, but he couldn’t do it for financial reasons and fears that the COVID-19 pandemic will limit their funding for some time.

“We want to make sure it’s sustainable, not just for 12 months and we can’t do it anymore,” Smalley said.

He said if the council did not approve this now and waited another month, it could be subject to price increases.