BUFFALO, NY - The City of Buffalo has made decisions in the past to save taxpayers cash on how it offers prescription drugs to its employees.
And a city audit shows there's still plenty of savings that could be made, even with the rising cost of health care.
City comptroller Mark Schroeder says much more cash could be saved if city officials made some changes.
Schroeder's 2012 pharmacy audit for city workers says $3.6 million was saved from 2011 until 2012. The estimate for savings was $2 million. Schroeder says taxpayer dollars were saved because the city moved to a self-insured system and dumped the fully insured program for pills in 2011.
"And so that is an advantage to the City of Buffalo and in my view, it gives the department, the mayor and the department the opportunity to maybe go further," said Schroeder.
City workers range from City Hall employees to fire and police and retirees. 12,000 people are covered, some of whom gobble up taxpayer dollars, in part because of what they get from the pharmacy.
Right now, taxpayers are coughing up dollars for city employees to get lifestyle drugs like Viagra and Cialis. Oxycontin is also on the list. The cost of these drugs are covered in part, by the city and workers have to pay a co-pay when they buy them.
The city's Human Resource commissioner, Patricia Folts and the comptroller agree the generic versions of these drugs should be offered to employees to save taxpayers even more money. Also boosting costs are the health conditions among city employees like high cholesterol and obesity because they're added risks.
Two On Your Side's Jeff Preval asked Schroeder what the city is doing to reassure the average taxpayer that their taxpayer dollars are being handled wisely?
"I think the citizens of Buffalo should know that in our view the city of Buffalo has taken the initiative to look into programs that cost less," he said.
And the city is currently negotiating union contracts to find out how to offer its health care programs better.
Folts said, "when I tell you that the unions are willing to come to the table and look at all those things, it's all of those things, it's not just health risks and behaviors, it's also premiums and funding and all of those options."
Schroeder added, "if the citizens want to weigh in on it, it would be a good time to do so with the mayor, with the commissioner of HR, with their council member to let them know if that is a wise use of taxpayer money and I would agree with them."
Eventually, the basic question of what employees need versus what they want will be answered.
Last year, the total costs for prescription drugs for city employees was $21 million.
City health officials say Buffalo needs to find more affordable drug rates when negotiating drugs costs.
The audit showed that programs should be offered helping employees live healthier lives.
Schroeder says hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars would be saved if the city made some of these changes.