By Steven Spearie
The State Journal-Register
Posted Apr 22, 2020 at 8:13 AM
Updated Apr 24, 2020 at 6:26 PM
Springfield Education Association leaders and District 186 teachers are fuming after the board of education approved a new health insurance plan at Monday’s meeting.
The approval will boost deductibles for singles and families under the insurance plan as well as boost co-pays, and prescription costs. The vote went against the recommendations of the health insurance committee.
The plan covers teachers and a number of other workers, like kitchen staff, custodians, nurses, social workers, teacher’s assistants and security guards. Those workers are represented by SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 15. Ball Charter Education Association workers also fall under the health plan.
In a scathing letter addressed to the school board and Supt. Jennifer Gill, SEA President Aaron Graves called the vote “a money grab” and “precalculated.”
“Our members are familiar with their rights and know that snatching them away in the night, under the cloak of a digital board meeting, is nefarious and wrong,” Graves wrote in the letter.
The school board has been meeting by Zoom due to Gov. JB Pritzker’s “stay at home” mandate in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Graves called into Monday’s meeting and noted that the option approved “is not the best option for families, for singles and for kids. (The SEA), SEIU and the Ball Charter Education Association are very disappointed that you would move against the recommendation that we worked carefully through.”
The plan was adopted by a 6-1 vote. Micah Miller from Subdistrict 2 who cast the lone “no” vote said he was going with the recommendation of the insurance committee, which is made of district members and union representatives. The recommendation was hashed out over the last few months.
Graves said SEA representatives on the insurance committee agreed to 5% increase in premiums across the board “if no other major insurance benefit reductions were implemented.”
Graves said Wednesday that the changes the board voted for “balances a budget on the backs of people and their families.”
“The district will not contribute one additional dime (in 2020-2021) to help fund the plan and bring it to a healthier place,” Graves said. “That is why (the board) chose that option. We recommended the premium increase option because it spread the cost of things to both healthy members and those who may have to use their insurance and the district.”
The care management policies under the plan, he added, are all controversial programs that insurance companies and employers are using “to shift costs and micromanage heath care decisions away from medical professionals. How can that be good?”
Under the approved plan, the deductible for a single user will increase from $1,250 to $1,500. A family deductible will increase from $3,750 to $4,500.
The increase out-of-pocket for a single user goes from $3,250 to $3,900 and for a family goes from $9,750 to $11,700 ($1950).
An emergency room co-pay increases from $150 to $300 per visit. The increase for an office visit goes to $30 and a specialist co-pay goes to $50.
According to the district, there are 1,322 single users, 100 employee/spouse users, 651 families and 1,015 employees, children only users.
The district has a self-funded insurance plan, meaning that everyone pays into one large pot and then collective medical expenses and medical insurance management fees are paid back out of that pot.
The district maintained that over the last four plan years, the claims and fees have been higher than the revenues received through premiums by $5.3 million. The current self-insurance fund cash deficit is approximately $3 million.
Board vice-president Scott McFarland, who represents Subdistrict 3, said adopting the proposal the committee came up with would have meant “more pain across the board.” It also would have put less of a dent in that $3 million hole.
With the plan the board adopted, he said, that deficit would be wiped out in roughly five years. With the plan the committee proposed, it would have taken twice as long, he added.
“Everyone votes (his or her) own way,” McFarland said. “I have to take into account everything. I appreciate the committee’s work, but the recommendation is one piece of the puzzle.
“The buck stops with my vote.”
Miller said he voted for the plan that called for a 5 percent increase across the board because “I felt that was a number that wouldn’t be subject to change.
“I knew the teachers were comfortable were with it.”
Graves said he was rankled that workers benefits were diminished “in the middle of a pandemic.”
“We work for the people and have to be healthy and able to afford our own insurance to help the community and their kids,” Graves said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Contact Steven Spearie: 788-1524, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/stevenspearie.