Montgomery County is paying more for firefighter injuries than it did last year, despite a drop in the number of claims.
Fire officials told the County Council on Thursday that despite fewer workers getting hurt on the job, the higher cost of health care is slamming the department with higher rates, forcing them to increase spending in their risk management program for fiscal 2014.
Fire Chief Richard Bowers said he predicts fiscal 2013 costs will be higher, though claims will drop.
In County Executive Ike Leggett's proposed fiscal 2014 budget, about $2.2 million more would go into the department's risk management fund, part of which goes to pay for firefighters hurt on the job. Some of that funding also goes to preventative measures to make sure firefighters don't get hurt. It also includes special training and routine medical and behavioral health.
In total, about $31.1 million would go into the fund.
Council members questioned the $2 million increase. In fiscal 2008, the county paid out $5.1 million in claims. That number was down to $2.8 million in 2011, but shot back up to about $4.3 million in 2012.
But the number of claims has fallen steadily: Since fiscal 2008, the number of claims dropped from 575 to 455 in 2012.
Bowers told council members that although the number of claims is falling, since 2010, the county has had to pay for pricier health care and increased workers' compensation rates. Health care rates have increased more than 10 percent since 2010, and Bowers said he expects to see that cost continue to rise.
Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, said it is inevitable to have firefighters injure themselves on the job but questioned if there was more the county could do to reduce costs.
"The concern is that the cost is high," he said. "There appears to be some ways we can bring that down."
Pamela Schroeder, chief of the Risk Management Division, said the department is looking at ways it can reduce costs. She said officials have been meeting with its network of physicians to review costs and are looking to incentivize firefighters using low-cost care providers.
She added that the county has saved about $675,000 by switching around some health care providers and pharmacy benefits.