Committee discusses insurance

Published 9:46 pm Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A discussion about health insurance plans was the order of the day on Monday at the monthly meeting of the City School Advisory Committee for Collaborative Fiscal Concerns.

Officials have discussed seeking proposals for health insurance services that combine all city and school employees onto one plan, in the hopes that doing so will save money.

Accomplishing that goal is still a ways off, for a number of reasons. Suffolk Public Schools are currently under contract for their health insurance services until 2017, for instance.


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But the discussions have to start now if the goal is to be accomplished.

Dr. Nancy Olivo, the city’s director of human resources, said some high-level discussions between city and school officials need to take place.

The philosophies and strategies of city and school officials need to be better aligned before a request for proposals can be issued, Olivo said.

“With the Affordable Care Act, there’s some financial pressure on organizations to have less rich plans,” Olivo told the committee. “What we want to do is hold employees accountable for maintaining and taking care of their own health. That encourages the people that are using the plans to take better care of themselves.”

Olivo added that the school division’s premiums are high.

“There are many employees that don’t need to have a very high premium because they’re healthy,” she said, adding that city employees can choose from among several plans.

School Board Chairman Michael Debranski, who is not on the committee but was present, said he didn’t want the school division to “knock (employees) down right now” after they just got their first substantial raise in several years.

But city officials countered that a change in the plans doesn’t necessarily have to cost employees money.

“You’ve got to kill that mentality,” Councilman Mike Duman said. “A lot of it is just influencing the desired behavior of our employees. We’ve got to lose the attitude that any change you make is costing our people money. If you do it the right way, it’s not costing money.”

“It’s going to be hard to change the teachers’ way of thinking,” Councilman Tim Johnson said. He added later: “We need to get control of this before it gets out of control — and it’s getting out of control.”

Johnson also said that as nearby school systems also drop the so-called “Cadillac” plans, it will put Suffolk on a more equal footing.

Olivo said she and Suffolk Public Schools’ Finance Director, Wendy Forsman, will work together in the next month to talk about insurance plans.

The entities also agreed for city and school employees to work together on energy performance contracting, another project the committee has taken on. The state program allows public entities to contract with private contractors to do energy-saving upgrades. The contractors agree to write a check for the difference if the energy savings do not cover debt on the improvements.

The School Board approved consideration of the program at its meeting last month, after a good bit of disagreement among members of the committee whether it needed to approve consideration of the program at all.