Tonawanda News

Local News

February 6, 2013

Body rubs cost county $1.4M

Tonawanda News — Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw said massage and acupuncture treatments used by county employees as part of negotiated health care benefits have cost taxpayers an extra $1.4 million for what he deems a luxury services. 

“Before taking office I met with benefits representative,” he said. “They handed me a list of massage therapists and acupuncturists. I was told these perks were pretty much fully covered by a county health insurance plan. Hard working taxpayers should not have to pay for massages and acupuncture. For most folks, these are luxury benefits,” Mychajliw said.

Mychajliw began a review of insurance packages before he took office on Jan. 1. Erie County employees are entitled to 12 massages and six acupuncture sessions per year. Both benefits are

covered by their health

insurance, with the exception of a minimal $8 or $10 co-pay.

The review showed $1,299,947 was spent on acupuncture and massages for employees from 2009 through 2012, while $77,053 were spent on acupuncture during the same time frame for a total of $1,377,001. 

“My elderly parents live down the street from me in Kaisertown,” Mychajliw said. “They are on a fixed income and struggle to pay bills. Their limited income should not pay for workers to receive massages and acupuncture.” 

Mychajliw noted that the county started the year facing a cash shortage and did not have enough money to pay bills. An estimated $34 million cash deficit was identified on the first day of 2013, he said. An initial analysis shows county will be forced to borrow $110 million in 2013 to pay its bills. 

Democrats dispute those claims and say the county is on sound financial footing.

“Every penny counts in the county budget,” he said. “Multiple ways to save could add up to property tax relief for struggling homeowners. We could put more sheriff’s road patrol officers on the street. More corrections officers could be hired at the holding center. Library supporters and arts and cultural groups are practically forced to beg for funds every year. 

The comptroller said a recently negotiated CSEA contract eliminated the massage and acupuncture “perk” for newly hired corrections offices beginning Jan. 1. He added that he would conduct an audit of the overall cost of medical insurance for county employees and retirees should the massage and acupuncture services be cut out of other contracts. 

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