Sunday, November 19, 2017
Politics

Safety Harbor to cut off commissioner and retiree health insurance if unpaid

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SAFETY HARBOR — Commissioners and city government retirees who lag behind on their health insurance payments will now see their coverage terminated after 45 days, the City Commission decided Monday.

The policy, passed unanimously, follows an anonymous letter and an audit that raised questions about former Mayor Andy Steingold's payments for city health insurance. He carried a balance for his premiums that at times approached $4,000.

Under the new rules, the city will notify policyholders after 30 days that they have 15 more days before their insurance will be dropped.

"I think it's good practice that we put some controls and procedures in place going forward," Mayor Joe Ayoub said after the meeting.

Among other accusations, the letter to city auditors said Steingold abused his power to obtain, in effect, an interest-free loan. Steingold did not respond to a phone call from the Tampa Bay Times.

Ayoub, who might face Steingold in the 2014 mayoral race, made similar accusations when the issue was first aired publicly during a city audit meeting in early November.

He also expressed concern that city employees are put in an awkward position when they must collect premium payments from elected officials.

Other commissioners said they suspected the letter writer had political motivations and they didn't think Steingold intentionally did anything inappropriate.

They asked the city to draft a policy to avoid future confusion about how to handle an elected official or anybody else who is late on their health insurance premiums.

During the November audit meeting, City Manager Matt Spoor said the city did not make a special exception for Steingold. Rather, he said, the city routinely negotiates with city retirees who fall behind on their health insurance premiums or are late paying their city utility bills.

The city pays a portion of the insurance premiums for current employees, but commissioners and retirees can buy into the city's group health insurance only if they pay 100 percent of the premiums.

Steingold, an attorney in private practice whose wife was sick while he was in office, paid his bill in full before his term ended in January.

He is the only elected official in recent years to buy the city's health insurance.

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 323-0353.

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