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County touts healthcare savings

Officials: county has seen 4.2 percent reduction in expenses over five years

While rising state mandated expenses have troubled municipalities, Schenectady County officials feel healthcare costs is one area it has been able to tackle.

Chris Gardner, attorney for Schenectady County, gave a presentation on Monday, Feb. 7, during the New York State Association of Counties 2011 Legislative Conference on a 15-step checklist to reduce employee and retire healthcare costs. The county's actual healthcare expenses in 2007 was $18,750,610 and the budget allocation for those expenses in 2011 was $17,963,279, which has resulted in a 4.2 percent reduction in expenses over five years.

With the property tax cap coming in I think folks are looking for ways to avoid those double-digit increases in health insurance, said Gardner. "This isn't anything we just came up with at once, it was over a period of years. It is actually more like 150 steps, but this just sort of distills it down."

Part of the difficulties with controlling health care costs, said Gardner, is how it is like running on a treadmill, because the costs are always growing and speeding up. The overall inflation rate for health insurance is at 11 percent a year, he said. If the county followed the trend of an 11 percent yearly increase, he said the county tax rate would be 17 percent higher than it currently is and an additional 10.5 million in expenses would be incurred a year.

"I think we are about the only municipality in the state that has reduced our health care cost in the past five years," said Gardner. "Our legislators work on this and put a lot of effort into making sure we arte taking advantage of every possible opportunity out there."

Using a Canadian prescription drug program has been highlighted before as one of the different ways the county has been able to achieve savings. Gardner said the county's prescription drugs costs have increased by 15.9 percent from 2005 to 2010.

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