By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Some of Del Norte County's retired workers are ending the year on an unhappy note: They're finding out that they'll have to pay more for their health insurance in at least one case, a lot more.

Mike Ronlund received his new insurance packet a few days before Christmas.

andquot;It was a wonderful Christmas present,andquot; he said, with more than a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

By the end of 2007, Ronlund said he'll be paying $386.06 per month to ensure that he isn't saddled with paying the full cost of his medical bills.

andquot;I'm paying $155 now,andquot; he said.

At 56 years old, Ronlund said he has a couple of medical issues that require ongoing care. andquot;This isn't good for retirees,andquot; he said.

Ronlund is in the below-65 retirees' group a group of approximately 30 people whose rates increase the most under the new arrangement.

Retirees with less than 10 years longevity will have to foot their own insurance premium bills: the county is discontinuing its premium payments for them.

The changes enable the county to charge its retirees from 75 percent to 25 percent of the cost of their medical insurance.

The county estimates it will raise $882,000 in revenue through the change. Its medical insurance is a self-funded program.

It's all happening because of rising insurance and medical costs, said Jeannine Galatioto, the county's chief administrative officer.

Galatioto held a series of eight workshops in November and December to explain to county workers the policy changes that were under consideration at that time.

An overhead projection program the county prepared for its workshops highlighted two main causes for the rate changes:

?The cost and usage of newer and better prescriptions and state of the art medical testing has increased over the past several years.

?Loss of local physicians and an increase in number of tests performed contributes to increase in cost.

The employees voted to approve those changes Dec. 15.

Retired county employees are a non-voting group, she said, and were not told about the impending changes until employees had approved and the board of supervisors implemented them at their Dec. 19 meeting.

andquot;The retirees were called before the board finalized them Dec. 19,andquot; Galatioto said. andquot;They were invited to a meeting to hear details about them.andquot;

None of the retired group attended the board's meeting to protest the issue, however.

But the county began mailing retirees information about their coverage after the board finalized the change.

andquot;Those who are over 65 don't have an issue,andquot; Galatioto said. andquot;They get Medicare; we even had some retirees call to thank us.andquot;

Retired employees' coverage rates are set using a sliding scale keyed to their longevity of service at the county, she said. Those who worked the longest pay nothing probably the group whose members called to thank the county.

Those retired county employees who are older than 65 had been paying $150 per month premiums in all age groups. Their rates increase to $225 to $175 per month, depending on their longevity. Those with 25 or more years of employment stay at the $150 per month rate.


Retirees' health insurance

Health insurance rate changes for retired county workers include:

?Retired employees younger than 65 and who worked from 10-15 years - Rates will increase from $155 to $386.06 by Dec. 31, 2007.

?Retired employees younger than 65 and former employees who worked from 16-20 years - Rates increase from $155 to $257.25 per month.

?Retired employees whose longevity is between 21-24 years - Rates will drop from $155 to $128.68 by next year's end.

?Retirees who worked 25 years and longer for county government - Will continue to pay nothing.