Aug. 13--SEBRING -- Renewing its employee health insurance recently was anything but routine for the School Board of Highlands County.
The opinionated debate included insurance committee member and Teachers Union President Steve Picklesimer exclaiming that the issue could go to impasse.
Also, one school board member voted against renewing the insurance and another board member voted against the insurance funding recommendation.
First, a representative from Cigna pointed out the high amount of insurance claims for the school board, which were especially high in June.
For the month of June, Cigna experienced a 126 percent loss ratio, which means it paid out 25 percent more than it received in premiums and payments. The current 12-month loss ratio is 111 percent.
Working with Cigna, the district's insurance committee recommended a renewal plan that would reduce the employee's out-of-pocket gap between the up front money paid to their Health Reimbursement Account fund and the deductable.
But, the proposal required, for two fiscal years, an additional $197,750 from the school board, a transfer of $197,750 from a surplus in the dependent's dental plan and a transfer of $90,000 from the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program.
School Board member Andy Tuck said, "My understanding from last year is that we are not going to put any more money toward the insurance. Every year, that was going to be the max.
"If we had to drop coverage because of too many claims, that is what we would do."
Tuck said he didn't understand why the board received a proposal that would cost more money, regardless of how good a plan it is.
Picklesimer said, "When you sit at the negotiation table, you are supposed to bargain in good faith. If you had a preconceived dollar sign, you never shared that preconceived dollar sign.
"Then you are committing an unfair labor practice in my opinion, and we can talk about that."
Insurance committee member and Kindergarten Learning Center principal Andrew Lethbridge said, "We have some hurting people out there with the insurance plan."
There was a zero-percent increase for the school board last year, and benefits were cut by about 30 percent, he said. Reducing the gap helps everyone.
The insurance committee never understood Tuck's position that there would never be another insurance payment increase for the school board, Lethbridge said.
The school board voted 3-1 to approve the insurance plan. Donna Howerton voted "no." Ronnie Jackson was not in attendance. He was out of town on Dixie Youth Baseball business.
Tuck noted the continued budget crunch with teachers without planning periods and no pay raises. He said he would not support the additional funding for the insurance.
The board voted 3-1 to approve the insurance funding plan. Tuck voted "no."
It was noted at the recent school board meeting that Highlands is one of only about six or seven districts in Florida where employees have a zero premium cost for insurance.
For additional family members, the monthly costs are as follows: employee/spouse -- $315.98, employee/child -- $201.06, family -- $392.60 and family with both (husband and wife) employed -- $30.
Later, Howerton explained her "no" vote and shared her thoughts on the district's insurance.
In her 16 years of serving on the school board, Howerton said, she has never experienced a negative reaction from pharmacists concerning the school district's prescription plan, until the district switched to Cigna a year ago.
A pharmacist with 30 years experience said looking at the School Board of Highlands County and its number of employees, the insurance is inadequate for receiving compensation toward medications, she said.
"So it concerns me that our employees will not get the medications that are needed for themselves and their families," Howerton said. "I actually was at a pharmacy where an employee was going to fill prescriptions and had to choose what medicines they were going to receive."
If employees are not receiving the medications they need, Howerton believes insurance claims could go up in the future.
So before agreeing to the renewal, she wanted to see if the concerns with the prescription plan could be addressed.
But, Cigna only made an offer of helping employees close the gap between the HRA "up front" money and the deductable, Howerton noted.
Since the insurance renewal was approved, Howerton said she voted to support reducing the out-of-pocket gap for employees.
Under the current plan, a single person would receive $750 "up front" for their HRA fund and then would be responsible for the next $1,750 until reaching the $2,500 deductible.
The insurance committee's recommendation that was approved by the board will increase the "up front" funding to $1,000. Then a single employee would be responsible for $1,000 toward the deductable that is lowered to $2,000.
For a family, the out-of-pocket coverage gap will be reduced from $3,500 to $2,000.
The district switched from Blue Cross to Cigna in October 2011.
District Finance Director Richard "Bo" Birt said the district sought bids for health insurance in 2011. Cigna's quote was about $1.2 million less than the nearest competitor, which was Blue Cross.
The district pays about $11 million annually for employee health insurance, which is about 10.5 percent of the general fund, he said.
Birt said starting Monday, he and other staff members will be going to the schools and other work sites to inform employees about the insurance changes.
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