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Madison School Board looks to keep same health insurance provider, add deductible amid rising premiums

Madison School Board members considered different options for the school district’s health insurance plans as its two primary providers plan to increase premium costs.

Madison School Board members considered different options for the school district’s health insurance plans as its two primary providers plan to increase premium costs.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Facing two choices, the Madison School Board opted for stability in changes to the district’s health insurance plans Monday, adding a new deductible over forcing nearly three-quarters of its staff to change providers.

While the district did not budget any employee benefit increases for next year, Madison Metropolitan School District’s two insurance providers — Group Health Cooperative and Dean Health Plan — intend to increase their premiums by $3.3 million and $1.3 million respectively, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. 

“That means that insurance changes are needed this year to balance the budget,” Director of Benefits Rachelle Hady told the School Board at Monday night’s meeting.

District administrators presented two options in the face of rising premiums. 

One plan that received strong approval from board members introduced yearly deductibles — $100 for singles and $200 for families — while keeping most employees on their current GHC plan. At the same time, future retirees would be allowed — but not required — to move to health insurance plans offered by the state Department of Employee Trust Funds’ Local Annuitant Health Program.

Another option would see the district dropping GHC as a provider, which the district has used since 2017, forcing 73 percent of their employees to change to plans offered by Quartz. No deductibles would be instituted, but employees would be forced to pledge more money to premium costs. 

The latter curried little support from the Board who favored “option one” instead.

“Option one limits disruption and that is incredibly valuable for both families and teachers as well as for staff and administration,” board member Kate Toews said. 

Andy Waity, President of Madison Teachers Inc. — the school district’s teachers union — expressed concerns about placing the burden of uncertain health insurance on staff during the latter stages of the school year during public comment Monday. MTI echoed a similar sentiment in a memo last Friday, sharing their disapproval of requiring staff to change their primary care providers. 

In 2017, the District narrowed its healthcare plans from three to two, discontinuing Quartz, then Unity, and moving all Unity-covered employees to GHC or Dean plans, according to MTI. It added that forcing employees to switch again, only three years later, “is too disruptive.”

“The immediate response from members was one of frustration,” Waity said. “This tension has become the norm and that’s really not a healthy situation for any of us.”

MTI did not disapprove of a deductible or increased premiums but said both options should be paired with “cost-of-living base-wage increases, as well as scheduled step increases, to minimize the impact on take home pay,” according to the Cap Times. 

Increased premiums would see staff paying a 6 percent employee premium contribution instead of the current 3 percent. 

Despite the proposed increase in premium rates, Rachelle Hady, director of benefits for the school district, stressed MMSD staff would still be paying much less than employees of surrounding districts where teachers pay 11 to 12 percent of premiums. 

In addition, MMSD staff who work more than 19 hours per week are eligible for the district’s health care plan — well below the 30 hour-per-week requirement in neighboring districts. MMSD is also one of few districts locally to offer a plan with no deductible.

To keep the district’s recruitment competitive amid an ongoing teacher shortage, Toews stressed the importance of maintaining advantageous health insurance coverage.

“Our health care is one of the biggest elements of competitiveness for staff in the area,” Toews said. “It’s an area I would really like to keep differentiated.”

The Board will vote on its health care changes on March 23. 

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