Pitkin County joins local governments in opting out of new state insurance plan

Pitkin County joined the City of Aspen and the Town of Snowmass Village on Wednesday in opting out of the new Family Medical Leave Insurance Program (FAMLI).

The program will cover a percentage of an employee’s salary for 12 weeks during a family medical emergency, including childbirth.

FAMLI was approved by Colorado voters via Proposition 118 in November 2020, and registration is required by most employers starting in January.

Employers and employees will each contribute financially to the insurance program, but local governments and companies that offer equal or better private plans are not required to enroll.

Staff at the Pitkin County Human Resources Department say they already have family medical leave and parental leave for their employees.

Brett Bergman is a risk manager for Pitkin County and says the state program wouldn’t be worth it for the county government.

“And we determine that the county’s current benefits for the most part exceed what FAMLI provides,” Bergman said Wednesday during a regular meeting with county commissioners.

Pitkin County pays a maximum of $18,000 per year for each employee who goes on leave, but the state plan only covers $13,200.

And if a Pitkin County employee gives birth, adopts or is caring for a foster child, they will receive 100% of their salary for twelve weeks of paid leave.

If Pitkin County enrolled in FAMLI, the cost of its furlough programs could double, and county staff say the additional benefits would be marginal.

Pitkin County Executive Jon Peacock says it would be a bad financial decision for the county to enroll.

“When we pay the premium, it’s actually money spent with no guarantee of return,” Peacock said. “And so from a budget point of view, it’s almost a net zero at the end of the day.”

Employees would also have to contribute 0.5% of their salary to the state program.

For someone making $50,000 a year, that would be about $250 a year.

And if Pitkin County staff want to enroll in these additional benefits, they can do so individually.

And Pitkin County Commissioner Francie Jacober said that might appeal to employees who see “problems on the horizon.”

But even if an individual employee signs up for FAMLI and starts paying in January, the benefits won’t trigger automatically.

In 2023, enrolled employees will contribute to the state program and will not have access to paid vacation until 2024.

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury voted to opt out of the state program, but the discussion prompted her to reconsider county benefits and how they can provide more coverage.

County human resources staff have acknowledged that the state’s FAMLI program offers some benefits that commissioners should consider.

For example, if a county employee has a serious medical condition that prevents them from working, they would only be eligible for 60-75% of their typical salary while on leave.

Bergman says it wouldn’t put as much pressure on Pitkin County’s resources to increase that advantage.

“The county is budgeting 100% of employee salaries,” Bergman said. “So there really is no additional cost to providing wage replacement to these employees. It simply reduces salary savings.

At budget meetings this fall, commissioners could also vote to extend parental leave by four weeks for complications related to pregnancy or childbirth.

And they could cut the one-year waiting period for new hires and make paid vacation available after just six months.

McNicholas Kury says she is particularly interested in the increased benefits for caregivers.

For me, that’s the biggest gap between what FAMLI provides and what Pitkin County doesn’t,” she said. “We don’t really have a benefit for a carer looking after an immediate family member or a child or anything like that.”

So while Pitkin County doesn’t sign up, the FAMLI program outlines how the governing body could improve its furlough benefits.

KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs reporting that at least 40 government agencies have withdrawn from the program as of August 25.

It is unclear how the loss of funding from these large employers will affect the state’s ability to deliver these promised benefits.

And with the potential threat of new COVID variants still looming, a spike in claims could stress the new system.

If they change their minds, Pitkin County, Aspen and Snowmass Village can still register at a later date.

But for now, they join dozens of other governments across the state in saying “no” to FAMLI.