Press-Republican

May 12, 2013

City School constituents discuss health insurance

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Having undergone cancer surgery, Steve Bedard is grateful for the Plan A health insurance available to him as a retired Plattsburgh City School teacher. 

“What I find is I’m slowly becoming a walking pharmacy,” Bedard, a city taxpayer, told the audience gathered at the district’s recent public health insurance forum. 

The event came after months of urging from taxpayer Walter Chmura for the school to consider switching from Plan A to the less costly Plan B. The forum featured a presentation, detailing the differences in the two plans, by Steve Locey of Locey and Cahill LLC, the consulting firm that works with the district’s health-care consortium.

PLAN DIFFERENCES

Plan B is currently about 18 percent less expensive than Plan A, Locey said. 

They also differ in that Plan B carries higher deductibles and co-insurance maximums, and Plan B users are subject to prescription drug co-pays, which do not count toward fulfilling the deductible or co-insurance maximum. 

”Right now, I get prescription drugs, (and) it counts toward my $400 (co-insurance maximum and) $50 deductible ... If that’s pulled away from me, I’ll tell you, I’ll be pretty nervous because any of us could end up bankrupt,” Bedard said during the public-comment portion of the forum, following Locey’s presentation. 

BIG SAVINGS SEEN

Other speakers, however, noted that the high cost of Plan A makes it unsustainable for schools that are annually struggling to bridge budget gaps.

“Many local school districts have recently stated that their districts are in danger because (of) unsustainable benefits, and health care is one of the biggest parts of that,” said Nancy Allen, a city taxpayer and former Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield employee. 

Allen, who worked on the consortium’s account during her 12 years with Excellus and helped to develop and implement Plan B, stated the City School District could save about $900,000 a year by switching plans. 

”It seems the fiscally responsible action for the Plattsburgh City School District would be to move to Plan B for all active and retired employees, with a buyout option for Plan A,” she said. “This would allow employees and retirees to choose to stay on Plan A as long as they pay the difference.”

Allen added that Plan B, like Plan A, is a “Cadillac” plan. 

“Most taxpayers have plans that are nowhere near as rich as Plan B,” she said.  “Taxpayers are frustrated, and they’re looking for some common-sense solution, and they’re realizing they’re footing the bill of extremely rich benefits that have been around 30 years for a very select group.”

NEGOTIATIONS NEEDED?

Chmura also advocated for the switch to be made; however, he urged the board to do it unilaterally. 

”It can be done without collective bargaining, which means it can be done expeditiously,” he said. 

City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short told the Press-Republican in a separate interview that according to both the Plattsburgh Teachers Association and Plattsburgh Civil Service Employees Association contacts, their health-insurance plan must be at least the equivalent of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Statewide Plan. 

”This brings the question forward (of whether) the School Board can or has interest in unilaterally switching plan options absent contract negotiations,” Short said.

When asked by a forum attendee if Plan B is at least equivalent to the state’s plan, Locey responded that it is, and that, in his opinion, Plan B is better. 

NEED CITED

Retired City School teacher Arnie Burdo also spoke at the forum, saying Plan A coverage allowed him to receive quality care through open heart-surgery and treatment of prostate cancer. 

”I’m asking for a situation which allows senior citizens like myself to be grandfathered into a good insurance like the one we have right now,” he said. “I know there are some people who would like to cut down their taxes, but I pay taxes, too, and so do all of my relatives, and they don’t mind chipping in to keep me alive.”

RESEARCH URGED

Another speaker, taxpayer and  Plattsburgh Teachers Association President Mary Lou LaRocque-Megarr, stated that switching plans is a complex decision and should not be made without research and discussion. 

“No board member, no negotiating team wants the responsibility of someone losing their home because we’ve switched to Plan B,” she said. 

Both LaRocque-Megarr and Rod Sherman, a retired teacher and former Teachers Association president, also noted that the union and district have a long history of collaborating and achieving compromise.  

“I don’t see this issue as being any different,” LaRocque-Megarr said. “It’s another issue that we will put on the table and talk about together, but retirees, we’re not going to sell you out.”

MORE OPTIONS EYED

City School teacher and taxpayer Tim Mulligan also spoke, questioning why consortium members can choose only between Plan A and Plan B. 

“Neither plan is working for both the district and its members ... Why can’t the consortium and the board work to put together a package that meets more in the middle?” he asked. 

Two days after the forum, the health-insurance discussion continued at a City School Board meeting, where board member Steve Krieg said he would support a unilateral insurance switch.

“We’re not taking away a good plan and leaving them with no plan,” he said. “We’re taking away a good plan and leaving them with a good plan.”

He and fellow board member Fred Wachtmeister urged the public to share their thoughts on the topic with the board. 

Wachtmeister added he would appreciate hearing from local workers, such as employees of the county, city, Georgia Pacific, SUNY Plattsburgh and CVPH Medical Center about the health-insurance plans offered by their employers.

During the public-comment portion of the meeting, Scott Waite, Plattsburgh Teachers Association negotiations chair, noted that while it was Locey’s opinion that Plan B is equivalent to the state’s plan, “something like that would have to be settled by a judge.”

In addition, LaRocque-Megarr spoke at the meeting, echoing Mulligan’s sentiments that the consortium should offer more plan options. 

“I would urge the board to put some pressure on the consortium,” she said. 

Email Ashleigh Livingston:alivingston@pressrepublican.com

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TO LEARN MORE

More information about health-insurance plans A and B, including a plan comparison, is available on the Plattsburgh School District's website: plattscsd.org.