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HB 358 passes, saves health dept for at least one more year

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SALYERSVILLE – Legislators passed a last-minute bill with an amendment that will make it possible for the health department to stay open at least another year. 

While House Bill 358 does raise quasi-governmental entities’ pension costs, it gives them a one-year reprieve before their payroll pension contribution rates increase from 49.47 percent to 84 percent. 

Prior to passing HB 358 with the Free Conference Committee Report Amendment on March 28, the last legislative session day, pension costs for the “quasis,” which includes health departments, regional health programs, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, child advocacy centers, state supported universities and community colleges, were set to jump to the 84 percent starting in July. That change would have been detrimental to many health departments, including Magoffin’s.

“That would cost us $120,000 next year, which we just don’t have,” Shepherd said of the health department. “It would be one year to 14 months until we bankrupt.”

The last-minute amendment gives the health department another year before the rate will increase, while also allowing the health department to stay in the Kentucky Employees Retirement System if they choose, which Shepherd explained was what they were hoping for. 

 “This gives us time so we can restructure and cut costs, and hopefully be able to cover that increase,” Shepherd said.

He also noted that officials at the state level have expressed that they are looking at ways to help the local health department make ends meet during the transition, but said he is optimistic.

“Without this, they might as well send us to the gas chambers,” Shepherd said. “We were done. But now we can stay open for at least one year for sure, but hopefully many more years to come.”

Shepherd said he was also pleased that they included protections for Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees, which would allow them to stay in the KERS system if the health department chose to opt out of it. With the one-year reprieve, it also buys some time so that two of the employees that have worked at the Magoffin County Health Department almost 20 years also will be able to keep their insurance after they retire. 

“We’re working hard to make the changes we have to make,” Shepherd said. “We’re starting to cut programs for the current year, not just waiting for the next fiscal year, so we’re hopeful.” 

The restructuring, mandated by the Department for Public Health, will cut all services that are offered elsewhere, including well-child visits, colon cancer screenings, breast cancer screenings, Pap smears, and other services that can be obtained at doctor’s offices. They will keep all services relating to the opioid crisis, the vaccination programs, the bioterrorism program, as well as HANDS and WIC. 

More information regarding the upcoming changes will be featured in the Independent at a later date. 

HB 358 with the Free Conference Committee Report Amendment passed the House with a vote of 26-11 and the Senate with a vote of 58-39 and was delivered to the governor the same day. 
 

 

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Heather Oney