School employees’ benefits debated at committee meeting

Some people take a job for the benefits alone. Part-time, or jobs paying minimal wages, are not enough to live on, but throw in some health insurance and the work becomes more appealing.

During Chesterfield County’s annual benefits committee meeting last week, Wells Fargo Insurance Services presented its health/dental plan for Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) for 2012. Wells Fargo acts as the agent for a number of insurance plans but recommended Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The Chesterfield school division and county public services carry a separate benefits program, but to date it is very similar. Last week, only the school employees’ benefits were on the table. The proposal would downgrade the school employees’ coverage by one percent in general and up to seven percent when increases in deductibles and co-pays are taken into consideration. Among several changes to benefits, increases to some co-pays and out of pocket maximums were changes to bring them “more online with peer organizations [like Henrico and Richmond] but remain competitive,” according to information provide by Wells Fargo. Wellness programs are also considered part of the plan, which, according to Wells Fargo, would allow for a healthier workforce and help bring a percentage of savings on claims back to the county.

“When I went to the opening of American Family Fitness,” said Dorothy Jaeckle, Bermuda District supervisor, “I saw that several companies have contracts with American Family Fitness and employees get a special discount if they go.”

Wells Fargo representatives said that the schools division final rates are 1.1 percent lower than current rates for a savings to the county of $1.2 million.

School Board member and Bermuda District representative Marshall Trammell told the committee that adding the benefits reduction in addition to the two-percent pay reduction school employees took as part of the budget crunch two years ago, makes it very difficult to bring teachers’ salaries back up to where they were.

“What I don’t understand is why there is a necessity to change the healthcare plan when at this point  there is no increase in rates at all,” Trammell said. “Even if we wanted to use the savings for a [employee] raise, it wouldn’t be enough.”

Trammel said that the money it would take for a one-percent raise would be about $3.3 million. He added that areas such as Henrico and the City of Richmond both pay higher rates for their employee healthcare plan.

“Even the rate reduction planned would save $80 per employee; it would only save us [the school system] $.88 per employee per month,” Trammel said. “But even the savings the employee gets would be wiped out in co-pays for doctor visits and what-have-you.”

Patricia Carpenter, school board member from the Clover Hill District, was concerned with what would happen if the county went to a much talked about self-insured system.

Jaeckle related her family’s experience and said, “It depends on where we’re going philosophically. Do we look at insurance to take care of day-to-day expenses or do you view insurance as taking care of catastrophic-type events? We put money in a Flex savings account,” Jaeckle continued. “Are we moving in a direction where we’re expecting people to take more responsibility for those smaller doctor bills? I know our [personal] deductible has gone from a $15 deductible to about a $35 deductible and realistically that is where health insurance is going.”

Midlothian District Supervisor Dan Gecker said he is not looking for a change in benefits for the schools division.

“If I were in your position,” Gecker said, “I would be thinking of ways to restructure my costs long-term to be able to restore that two percent [employee pay reduction] on a permanent basis.”

Gecker added that he is not pushing for the reduction in benefits this year as long as it’s coupled with other things like giving employees back the two-percent reduction. He said he thought the county would do better if the two-percent was restored even with a minor benefit change.

The school board could consider the benefits package at its Aug. 23 meeting. The board of supervisors could follow with its consideration of the benefits committee recommendation at its Aug. 24 meeting. 

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