Pick­ing health care provider an is­sue among lead­ers

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Gabriela L. Laracca

“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.

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