Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla discusses potential new City Hall healthcare plan

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Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla discussed a new potential healthcare plan for municipal employees at City Hall, claiming this could “effectuate the equivalent of the state benefits plan immediately.”

“That’s gonna involve shared sacrifice: it’s gonna involve negotiation on healthcare plans, it’s gonna involve some sacrifice from taxpayers with respect from the tax levy, but if everyone comes to the table and contributes a little bit, we do have the potential to avoid the necessity of layoffs,” the mayor said during an interview after a presser about the future of CarePoint Health in Jersey City.

His comments come after concerns about a multi-million dollar budget deficit hit a crescendo at last week’s city council meeting, as municipal employees voiced their frustrations just days after 79 layoff notices were issued.

At that meeting, the city council unanimously approved a measure (9-0) urging the administration to switch to the NJ Direct 10 insurance plan – a statewide plan utilized by 91 percent of municipalities in New Jersey, according to a copy of the resolution.

When asked if he had a chance to review and consider the new plan, Bhalla said he believes his administration has come up with a similar, yet slightly more efficient solution.

“We’ve actually been able to identify something even more beneficial, which is a switch to the functional equivalent to the statewide benefits plan. The two benefits to that is number 1: we can effectuate the equivalent of a state benefits plan immediately, without waiting for five months for the state to approve Hoboken employees into that plan,” he explained.

“And number 2, that can realize cost savings of up to four or five million dollars this year. And if we can do that, and the bargaining units can come to the table, and agree to the functional equivalent of the state benefits plan, it could potentially eliminate – or substantially reduce – the need for layoffs.”

Bhalla clarified that the plan would be a custom one that he referred to as “NJ Direct 11,” again emphasizing the substantial savings that could be realized right away – pending labor union approval.

1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, who pushed for the council to approve last week’s resolution regarding NJ Direct 10, slammed Bhalla’s “alarming” proposal since it still involves the company’s current broker, Fairview Insurance.

“ … It’s suspicious, to say the least, that Fairview Associates could suddenly bring down its cost by millions of dollars after its contract has been called into question,” he began.

“Should the Mayor chose to continue doing business with Fairview after draining city funds and taxpayers pockets for years, I will be calling on the proper authorities to investigate this questionably legal practice. Right now, my primary goal is saving the jobs of 79 hard working men and women by standing with our unions and pushing this administration to cut spending, not jobs.”

Hoboken Municipal Employees Association President Diane Nieves expressed a similar, though more measured, sentiment.

“The council pushed what we asked for. For some reason, the administration won’t let go of this third party.”

Finally, Hoboken 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, a co-chair of the city council’s finance subcommittee, said she was open to hearing all proposals and possibilities to achieve the best outcome.

“I am open to the best outcome for Hoboken and our employees. So far we’ve only been provided with information about the mayor’s proposal from those with vested interests in remaining a self insured-plan,” she said.

“We await input from State plan representatives and other municipalities who are in the plan. I’m hopeful the administration will be transparent and work collaboratively with our employees for the best achievable, long term solution.”

In response, city spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri simply said Bhalla looks forward to continuing negotiations with the labor unions “on these important matters.”