- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A plan by Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s budget department to substantially increase health care costs for state employees has been put off until July.

The delay comes after labor unions and Democratic legislative leaders complained about proposed reductions in benefits that would have required state workers to pay more for health care.

“The General Assembly, as well as the unions, voiced their concern about needing additional time to take a look at this,” said Andrea Fulton, executive director of the Office of Personnel Services and Benefits. “They’ve got it.”

State employees still will be hit with some additional health care costs. Although the percentage of premiums they must pay will not increase, they will pay more because of the rise in premiums.

The state also will implement some increases in copayments for visits to doctors and emergency rooms that were approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works.

Union representatives were pleased that the administration has delayed further increases in health care costs.

“On the surface, it seems like a very significant step and an important move,” said Sally Davies, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1092, which represents state workers.

But union leaders are hopeful that Democratic legislative leaders will continue to pressure the administration to negotiate with unions over health care costs.

The plan to increase costs beginning in January had angered key Democratic lawmakers because they had added language to the current budget mandating that health care costs for 2005 not exceed those of 2004 unless union officials agreed to the increases in collective bargaining with the administration.

The governor’s office got an advisory letter from the attorney general’s office that the language was not binding on the administration.

“I think the administration now agrees that we do need to sit down together so we can all understand the ramifications and the implications of increasing the percentages and increasing the prescription copays,” said state Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George’s Democrat and chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

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