Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake defended her plan to drop ineligible individuals from Baltimore's health care insurance but pledged Friday to accommodate city workers whose family members lost coverage if a city mistake was to blame.
Nearly 2,200 spouses, children and other dependents were purged from the city's insurance plan last month after government workers failed to provide documentation to prove they were eligible. The action, which creates an annual savings of $6.5 million, was criticized for unfairly blocking coverage in cases where employees may have attempted to comply or didn't receive notification of the edict.
Rawlings-Blake said her objective was to "ensure taxpayer money isn't being wasted on individuals who do not qualify for Baltimore City health insurance."
"I am very determined to get it right," the mayor said. "If the mistake is on our part, we will exhaust every effort to fix the problem. For the outliers who have ignored the messages, it puts everybody in a difficult position."
Workers were mailed five letters, sent an email and invited to information sessions, according to city officials. They were asked to provide birth certificates, marriage licenses and other documents to prove their relation to dependents.
The mayor called for more than 14,000 city employees to participate in the audit in February in an attempt to lessen the city's projected long-term budget deficit of $750 million.
Most of the dependents — about 90 percent, or 22,825 individuals — were approved to stay on the city's health care plan. Of the nearly 2,200 who were rejected, 1,642 were dropped after city workers failed to provide any paperwork and 539 lost coverage because their documentation was incomplete or inadequate.
Rawlings-Blake said affected workers have access to human resources staff and a city hot line to determine who was at fault for the insurance loss.
"If you made your best effort to comply and it wasn't sufficient, we're willing to work with you," she said.
If the employee ignored the notices, however, their family members will not be reinstated until at least January. They can purchase temporary insurance in the interim through other providers.
City Council members and city worker union representatives called on the mayor to grant employees the opportunity to appeal their decisions.
But the mayor said reversing course would send the message: "Pay attention to this if you want to and if you don't, don't worry about it, they'll fix it in the end."
She said the city postponed the deadline for workers to submit paperwork three times to give employees extra time.
"It was never my intention for people who are eligible for health care to be terminated, and that's why we spent so much time and effort and technical assistance to make sure they were able to apply," Rawlings-Blake said.