School system close to compromise on health benefits

School system close to compromise on health benefits

August 18th, 2010 by Kelli Gauthier in Health

After more than a year of debate, Hamilton County Schools employees are one step closer to a new set of health insurance benefits.

Schools officials have said changes to employee health care are necessary to stem the district's rising costs. Many lengthy discussions about the benefits have been the one remaining item holding up renewal of the teachers' contract.

The Hamilton County Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the new contract at its meeting Thursday and, if approved, it would go into effect that day.

"I'm glad to have it on the agenda, but I still want to have a couple of meetings to make sure I thoroughly understand it," board member Chip Baker said. "I've made it pretty clear that if (the health care changes) have a negative impact on the budget, I won't support it."

Messages left for chief financial officer Tommy Kranz about the savings were not returned Tuesday.

Although the teacher contract is negotiated every year, if an agreement is not reached it is extended for up to three years. For more than 18 months, the school system has been negotiating with the teacher's union, the Hamilton County Education Association, over the benefits, said Danielle Clark, spokeswoman for the district.

"The language (of the contract) is in effect until changed, so that's what (they've been) negotiating," she said.

Messages left for HCEA President Sharon Vandagriff were not returned Tuesday.

The school system has more than 6,000 employees, and about 4,000 of them participate in the health insurance program, Clark said. While the contract applies to certified employees, such as teachers and principals, the school district also gives classified employees, those who don't have teaching certification, the same benefits.

Included in the new plan is a "health reimbursement account" of $500 to $750, depending on whether employees are enrolled in the district's preferred provider organization plan or the health maintenance organization plan.

It costs the school district less money to administer the HMO plan, so in an effort to get employees to switch from the PPO to the HMO, administrators also are making changes to the more expensive PPO plan, such as:

* Changing the pharmacy co-payment from a two-tier system to a three-tier system, taking prescription costs from $5 and $20 to $5, $20 and $30.

* Increasing the annual deductible from $400 to $450.

* Increasing the annual maximum out-of-pocket payments for a single participant from $1,500 to $1,750 and for a family from $4,500 to $4,750.

Also new in the proposed teacher contract is a standardized discipline referral for teachers to use and instructions for how to use lead teachers in classrooms.

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