Acosta calls for increased transparency into McHenry County Board member health benefits

Acosta proposes new resolution requiring proof that board members have earned taxpayer-funded health insurance

McHenry County Board Member Carlos Acosta salutes the flag during the pledge of allegiance to start off a county board meeting at the McHenry County Administrative Building on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018 in Woodstock.
McHenry County Board Member Carlos Acosta salutes the flag during the pledge of allegiance to start off a county board meeting at the McHenry County Administrative Building on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018 in Woodstock.

After McHenry County Board members refused a vote on a resolution requiring them to fill out timesheets in order to receive taxpayer-funded health insurance benefits, board member Carlos Acosta has now filed a new resolution to bring a conversation about transparency in health benefits back onto the table.

Rather than implementing the use of timesheets, Acosta's resolution would require board members to file a single, signed letter with the McHenry County Auditor each year signifying that they worked the 1,000 hours necessary to receive health benefits.

“This resolution doesn’t change county board members’ compensation whatsoever," Acosta said in a press release sent out Monday afternoon. "It only requires county board members who take the health and dental benefits to take a couple of minutes to write a statement pledging to the taxpayers that they’re working enough hours to justify the perk."

Board members must work 20 hours per week to be eligible for the county's health and dental insurance, which, over a period of 50 weeks, adds up to 1,000 hours. Acosta's resolution will be discussed during Wednesday morning's Administrative Services committee meeting.

"I still question the policy as a whole of board members getting health insurance but I think this is a step in the right direction as far as adding another layer of accountability and documentation," Acosta said.

Acosta said he sees his resolution as being "only fair," since the board requires that other county employees work a minimum of 35 hours each week to be considered full-time and, thus, eligible to receive health benefits.

McHenry County Board members Michael Vijuk and Paula Yensen have already stated that they will support the resolution, according to the press release. But Acosta said he expects that there will be backlash from other board members.

"I cannot understand the resistance to proving that they’re earning the benefit, especially with so many of their constituents without jobs and insurance because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Acosta said in the release.

Vijuk will also present a resolution regarding the use of health benefits by county board members in Wednesday morning's meeting, Acosta said.

According to the meeting's agenda packet, a resolution is up for discussion which proposes requiring board members to switch over to Medicare once they are eligible for the program as a way of reducing the number of board members who rely on the county's insurance benefits.

Medicare is available to people ages 65 and older as long as they or their spouse have paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The proposal of these two resolutions at the same time is purely coincidental, Acosta said, but together they represent a last-ditch effort to save taxpayers money before the county board goes into budget talks next month. Acosta plans to support the Medicare resolution, he said.

A similar resolution proposed by Board Chairman Jack Franks ahead of the board's May 14 Committee of the Whole meeting was met with criticism from many board members, some of whom said that Franks did not give them enough time to properly discuss the resolution in the applicable advisory committees.

Franks' resolution requiring timesheets was discussed in the May Committee of the Whole meeting alongside a resolution proposing a 10% salary reduction for many elected officials. In that meeting, Franks said that the county's insurance plans can cost taxpayers up to $23,000 per board member.

At the start of the May 19 county board meeting, District 3 board member Joseph Gottemoller filed a motion to remove the two resolutions from the meeting's agenda. In a roll call vote, the board approved the motion to refuse a vote on the two resolutions by a majority of 18 to four.

On Monday, Acosta said that he took the concerns voiced by board members into account when drafting this new, similar resolution requiring a yearly, written attestment of hours worked.

"This resolution really came from me listening in those meetings," he said. "Listening to the concerns and listening to the objections, I mean, that's what the legislative process is supposed to be is negotiation."

A few board members were concerned with requiring the use of timesheets to receive county health benefits because of the issue of who those timesheets would be submitted to, Acosta said. To avoid the confusion of who would have the authority to review board members' timesheets, Acosta modeled his resolution after the attestations required by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund back when board members still received pensions.

In this way, Acosta's resolution would be less cumbersome on board members, but will still ensure the transparency and accountability into the use of health benefits which he said is long overdue.

Requiring board members to sign off on something certifying the hours they have put in would then allow constituents to challenge attestations if necessary, Acosta said.

"If there were concerns within the community about a board member not working, they could obviously then go to that attestation and request some sort of audit of the board member's time," he said.

According to Acosta, his resolution should pass easily as it is in line with the views that many conservative board members hold on the provision of healthcare when it comes to other members of the community.

“My resolution is in perfect alignment with the conservative talking points that we have heard since the passage of the Affordable Care Act that healthcare is not a right," he said in the press release. "For more than a decade, we have been told that public benefits should be based on merit and not be an entitlement, yet some County Board members have come to see the health and dental benefits as an entitlement based on the sole qualification that they won an election."

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