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Article updated: 10/7/2013 7:10 PM

Preckwinkle wants Cook County judges to pay all their health premiums

Toni Preckwinkle

Toni Preckwinkle

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Cook County circuit court and associate judges, who now pay about $1 a month for their health insurance, would have to pay the full cost of their health benefits -- anywhere from $440 to $1,700 a month -- or else shop for health insurance in the new exchanges, according to a proposal announced Monday by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

The proposal also would eliminate the flexible spending accounts for roughly 260 judges enrolled in an HMO program. That $1,500 stipend cost the county $288,000 last year.

Preckwinkle's office estimates the changes would save the county $2.2 million in next year's budget and roughly $4 million annually.

If approved, a total of 400 Cook County employees would be affected starting July 1, 2014. That includes all judges and a handful of part-time crossing guards and part-time Chicago Board of Elections commissioners.

Crossing guards, for example, sometimes work just 10 hours a week for eight months out of the year, yet receive full-time health insurance benefits from the county, Preckwinkle's office said.

Cook County judges, including Chief Judge Timothy Evans, could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

While the proposal likely will heighten existing tensions between Preckwinkle and the county judges, Preckwinkle spokesman Owen Kilmer says this budget proposal is not about politics.

"This is about fairness," Kilmer said. "The president believes there's a better way to manage these benefits." Preckwinkle will present the proposal to the county board later this week.

Circuit court judges earn $182,429 a year from the state of Illinois but also receive $500 in income from Cook County. They pay a percentage of their health care costs based on their county income, not their state income.

The average county employee who works full time pays $112 a month for the county health insurance, Kilmer said.

Other counties handle judges' health benefits differently. In DuPage County, for instance, judges get their insurance benefits through the state of Illinois, a spokeswoman said.

Last month, Preckwinkle asked the Illinois Supreme Court for outside help to whittle down a backlog of cases in Cook County courts and to investigate how the courts are managed.

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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