Ethics committee meeting
Hamilton County Schools officials laid out proposed changes to employee health care benefits Thursday, the day after the school board approved changes to its fiscal year 2011 budget.
The approved budget included no changes to employee health care, an area of the budget that district officials have said grows several million dollars each year and must be slowed.
Even if both the school district and the leaders from the Hamilton County Education Association agree to the health care changes, which district officials say will save the system money in the long run, the option presented likely will have little to no impact on the school system's budget for fiscal year 2011, said Tommy Kranz, Hamilton County Schools chief financial officer.
For the school system's preferred-provider organization plan, the system proposed:
* Changing from a two-tiered to a three-tiered prescription drug plan.
* Eliminating one of the co-pays from a 90-day retail supply of drugs.
* Instituting a 90-day mail order program.
* Increasing the deductible from $400 to $500.
* Increasing the out-of-pocket maximum for single coverage from $1,500 to $2,000 and family coverage from $4,500 to $5,000.
Changes to the district's health-maintenance organization plan would include:
* Increasing the inpatient co-pay from $100 to $200.
* Increasing outpatient co-pay from $50 to $100.
* Increasing an in-network office co-pay from $10 to $15.
* Increasing specialist office co-pay from $15 to $20.
* Increasing urgent care office visit from $25 to $50.
* Establishing an employee discretionary health savings account of $500 per year available for out-of-pocket cost. Except for retirees, the money is cumulative and rolls over from one year to the next, with a payout upon retirement.
Deputy Superintendent Rick Smith said the officials "fought aggressively" against the high cost of pharmaceuticals, for which he said the district pays about $12 million each year.
Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences teacher Marilyn Spickard, who is on the association's negotiation team, said she was unwilling to support the plan until the district came back with some options of increasing salaries to offset the higher cost employees would pay for health care.
"There are some very promising things (in the plan), but it's coming out of my pocket. I want to see something on salaries," she said.
Hamilton County Education Association negotiator Ken Barker, who retired as principal of Nolan Elementary School at the end of the school year, said he also had concerns about how the plan would affect retirees.
"It will cost me more, and I won't have a pay raise to offset it," he said. "This is going to sound terribly self-serving, and it probably is, but is there anything we can do for (retirees)?"
Both sides agreed to meet again next week to discuss the plan again, as well as other options. If any change is approved, it likely would not go into effect until January.
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Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...