Thursday, September 20, 2007

Straight from the horse's mouth

We are told that County Judge Sam Contreras met with employees today at the Reeves County Detention Center Complex to explain, after the fact of course, the new insurance group plan that was approved by the Commissioners Court last Friday. Employees were told that they are still negotiating the dental plan. Contreras' presentation brought relief after a week of false reports that the new plan was a sham compared to Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the county's existing group plan.

As it turns out, the benefits to the employees will be exactly the same under the new plan forwarded by "Health Smart," while the county will save $600,000 even after moving from a $50,000 stop-gap deductible to a $100,000 county deductible plan.

Despite this good news, county employees remained a bit skeptical and on edge about what will happen next year when the contract comes up for renewed negotiations. Will the new insurance provider impose a rate hike at that time, once their hooks are in the county? Employees were told by an insurance broker brought along to explain the new policy that it all depends on the level of claims made against their insurance, a level that has steadily climbed and one possibly tied to an aging generation of county employees. There are no guarantees against renewed stressful negotiations caused by such increased claims and rising healthcare costs; nevertheless, Judge Contreras is reported to have done an excellent job in calming the nerves of many who were previously anxious because of false reports, he noted, that had even come from the Pecos Enterprise.

In the barbershop conversations afterwards, it was reported by insiders that Contreras had one embarrassing moment -- that of explaining the pay raise the commission voted themselves while denying similar raises to others just as deserving. When asked how he could justify giving himself a raise while denying others, all the while whining since his election about the dire need to rescue the budget, Contreras stated, "I have worked hard....," implying that he deserved a raise.

This caused an outburst of cynical laughter at the implied insult regarding his apparent devaluation of his county employees' own felt sense of worth. Thus, his very justification in accordance with his self-perceived value was experienced as an insult to dedicated employees who have felt a continued lack of appreciation for their own contributions and sacrifices. According to attendees of the meeting, the realization of his faux pas left him stymied; he then clumsily stumbled for a change of topic.

It should have left him stymied! His gaff must have accidentally exposed his recently acquired underbelly of avoidance, insensitivity, entitlement, arrogance, grandiosity, manipulativeness , shamelessness and duplicity. But then, he IS a politician.

Given the relief that it wouldn't be such a booger-bear after all, the most convincing argument against the insurance change -- not that it matters now that the County Commission saved themselves the inconvenience inherent in the democratic process, only opening themselves to questions after the fact -- was that "Health Smart" did not represent the "Cadillac" that Blue Cross and Blue Shield did. In fact, Blue Cross has a comparatively good reputation, if you discount Michael Moore's excoriating criticism of the company in his film "Sicko." One of the main reasons for their high status among other corporatist gougers is their speed in settling claims -- they underwrite themselves. So you're not dealing with layers of middlemen, as in the case of "Health Smart," which, somewhere buried under these layers of spinoffs and surrogates, is the underwriter Lloyd's of London. Despite this seeming organizational flaw, County Judge Contreras is said to have proffered a convincing argument that effectively worked to allay the fears of all but the most untrusting -- apparently those who have been burned so many times in their dealings with GEO and Reeves County that reconciliation seems beyond hope.

This is said to be the case with Substance Abuse Education and Treatment, which seems not to be a priority at all in a region of the country known for rodeos, cowboys, Bar-B-Ques, cocaine trafficking, corrupt politicians in the habit of looking the other way and DWIs. Indeed, county commissioners seem unconcerned that these programs have been reduced all across Texas in the prison system, particularly as a result of the privatization process that has left programs vulnerable before the Almighty Dollar and the profit motive. Oh well, "Pay me now or pay me later," as the Great State of California is just now discovering to their financial chagrin.

After sweating through another tough one with county employees, County Judge $am Contreras and his Ye$-Man Commission still have their raises, don't they? Nothing will di$$uade them, least of all healthy $hame, empathy and a $ense of fairness and decency, especially concerning those so highly valued by them as substance abuse counselors and educators. Oh gee, I've just listed the main criteria for a diagnosis of anti-$ocial personality disorder, haven't I? But then, they have worked $oooo hard at keeping the process transparent and democratic -- the most labor intensive form of government in existence -- that they deserve their milk and cookie$ for a job well done.

-willy the rodeo pimp

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