Picking health care provider an issue among leaders
“We have … far right and far left commissioners. We have an executive that hires other people that share the Democratic Party [views] … What we need to do is bridge that gap [and] come together as a board and move forward.”
A plan to give Lehigh County commissioners final say over the selection of health care plans for county employees and retirees remains on course after an attempt to sidetrack it failed this week.
The process now is solely administrative: County administrators submit options to the county executive for a decision free of commissioners’ oversight. The proposed change would give the commissioners final say via a vote on the selection.
Under the change, the county executive would be required to submit, in writing, its final choice to the board. If the commissioners approve it, the county would be authorized to enter a contract with the entity. A vote on whether to make that change is set for the board’s Oct. 10 meeting.
This week, after Director of Administration Ed Hozza offered to hold a workshop for commissioners on the process, Commissioner Marc Grammes asked the board to table the proposed change. His request lost on a tie vote.
Commissioners who voted to table the proposed change were Grammes, Geoff Brace, Dan Hartzell and Amy Zanelli. Voting against tabling it were Percy Dougherty, Nathan Brown, Amanda Holt and Brad Osborne. Commissioner Marty Nothstein was absent.
Grammes said if the commissioners’ intent was to have “another set of eyes” on the process
— Nathan Brown, Lehigh County commissioner
and final decision, the county’s offer to loop them into the process was enough, and preferable to forcing the administration to give the commissioners the final say.
But Brown suggested an overall lack of trust between some commissioners and the administration, largely driven by political differences, warrants giving the commissioners the final say.
“We have … far right and far left commissioners. We have an executive that hires other people that share the Democratic Party [views] … ” Brown said. “What we need to do is bridge that gap [and] come together as a board and move forward.”
Zanelli, who sided with Grammes, said that if the board wants oversight, the individual commissioners need to take time to learn more about the county’s options ahead of a final vote. Only one commissioner attended a similar session offered by the county administration on the budget.
“If we’re going to ask to have a seat at this table in decision making, then we should also be present for the information sessions with the health care companies … ” Zanelli said. Not doing that, she said, risks failure “and that’s what happens when we take on more than we reasonably can do.”
County Executive Phillips Armstrong expressed concern about making a change that would give commissioners oversight without requiring them to learn more about the county’s options.
“[The county administration] will have a team that will be vetting every one of those health care providers that will lead us to our decision,” Armstrong said. “If [the commissioners] want to be part of that team, I would be in favor, but this resolution does not require that. This resolution says, after we do all that work, any one of them can say no.”
Armstrong took issue with Brown’s lack of trust in the administration.
“We have done nothing in my two years,” Armstrong said, “that wasn’t open and forthright.”
Gabriela L. Laracca is a freelance writer for The Morning Call.