Making a change
Medford School Board chooses Security over
Aspirus for cost saving
Employee health insurance at Medford Area Public Schools will be through Security Health Plan beginning January 1.
At Monday night’s regular school board meeting, board members voted to make the change from Aspirus and in the process save the district more than $100,000 compared to the renewal rate from Aspirus.
The school district’s annual health insurance premium is $7.29 million. According to district administrator Pat Sullivan, the budget approved at the district’s annual meeting last month included a 10% increase. Minus the portion of the premium paid by staff members, the district projected to pay about $639,000 more in premiums in 2023 based on the 10% increase.
Sullivan said things came in better than that. Aspirus presented a renewal rate of 7% ($447,000 in premium cost) and Security Health Plan affiliated See MEDFORD on page 20 with the Marshfield Clinic System proposed a rate increase of 6% ($339,00 in premium cost) over what is being paid by the district this year.
If the district stayed with Aspirus it would come in $191,000 below budget while Security puts the district at $299,000 below budget.
Sullivan recommended the school board make the switch to Security noting that it will continue to cover people at the same rate if they go to Aspirus or Marshfield Clinic providers.
He also noted the list of prescription drugs covered at no cost by Security was significantly larger than that covered by the district’s current plan. However those who took advantage of the reimbursements for fitness center use and were used to having routine metabolic panel blood tests covered by insurance will see additional out of pocket costs with Security offering only a $100 reimbursement for fitness center membership for the year and includes the metabolic screening as an out of pocket expense.
Sullivan said that when they came down to it, the district would see a savings of $108,000 by switching to Security versus remaining with Aspirus.
Sullivan also shared the result of a survey done among staff with 184 members responding noting that while 60% are satisfied or very satisfied with their care from Aspirus, 91.1% said they would like the option to go to either Aspirus or Marshfield Clinic providers.
Board member Don Everhard noted that while the survey shows a level of satisfaction with Aspirus, he said he has heard from many individuals who are not satisfied. He related a recent experience of being on the phone for almost an hour to get a question answered. “How can I be spending $2,000 a month for insurance and not talk to anyone,” he said.
It was noted that while the overall percentage increase to the premium is 6% with the change, the low and high deductible plans have a slightly different breakdown. Cory Toth-LaPointe of Spectrum, the district’s insurance broker, noted the vast majority of their employees are on the low deductible plans with 47 low deductible single plans, 186 low deductible family plans compared to 24 high deductible single and 55 high deductible family plans.
One area that caused some concern for board members is that Security would not commit to a cap for renewal. Toth-LaPointe said that Security does not offer that in the first year. She said they would ask for that when asking for a renewal for 2024.
She also noted that the district had been hurt with their claims averages based on an extremely high usage in June 2021 that was more than double the premiums paid in. Generally, the lower the usage rates the more favorable the plan is for the insurance companies. She said that month has since dropped off their running average amount with the district currently at 86% usage. “We went from 11 high cost claims down to four,” she said.
While the change will be a potential savings in that budget line area, it won’t impact the overall district budget advising the board to wait and see where they are at at the end of the year. “We may spend more than budgeted in heating buildings,” Sullivan said.
After agreeing to go with Security Health Plan, board president Dave Fleegel raised the question of looking at the plan structure. It was noted that each 1% of savings in premium equates out to about $63,000 in cost to the district. The suggestion was made to increase out of pocket premium costs for staff members by $500 while raising the health savings account (HSA) contributions from the district by $250 and drop the insurance increase from 6% to 3.3%.
Fleegel suggested it as a starting point for discussion noting the district hasn’t changed the deductible in quite a while. Everhard opposed the idea of raising out of pocket costs for school district employees. “I don’t think this is the right time to tell teachers and staff to pay more,” he said, citing inflation concerns which are dominating national headlines.
He said that in the future the district may want to look at plan changes if faced with a steep increase, but said he could not support it right now.
Board member John Zuleger equated it with being attractive as a district in hiring and retaining staff. “If doing nothing means we are more attractive then doing nothing is a great option,” he said supporting keeping the plan structure the same.
He questioned the impact of a one to one increase in the deductible and to the district’s contribution to the HSA. Toth-LaPointe said health insurance carriers want employees to have skin in the game and would not be favorable to that option.
Zuleger said he thinks the district is in a good position right now and that they should continue with the current plan structure and review it next fall when they look at renewals.
Board member Brian Hallgren agreed. He opposed the idea of putting additional exposure to the district’s employees.
The Medford School Board killed the district’s formal required Wellness program and in its place there will be health and wellness themed events planned and organized in each of the school buildings.
“I do think it has run its course,” Sullivan said of the district’s mandatory Wellness program.
This drew immediate support from board members including Everhard and Hallgren who have been critics of the program.
“As a public tax collecting entity that is not our role,” Hallgren said of the past wellness programs. Everhard agreed, noting that all it did was turn staff members into being liars when meeting with the health coach about if they had done anything to improve their health in the prior year.
Others on the board were more supportive of keeping some sort of wellness program in place. Under the current plan, those who did not participate were penalized with a higher insurance premium. Zuleger suggested they could look at providing wellness incentives rather than punishments. “I can’t believe that exercising and getting your blood drawn every year is bad,” Zuleger said.
Board member Steve Deml said that if there was a cost benefit to it, the insurance companies would be making them do it.
“I will not support a wellness program of any kind. I won’t even support what Pat is proposing,” Hallgren said, facetiously suggesting that if the district wanted to hold social events for staff and provide pizza and beer he would support that over wellness events.
In other business board members:
Moved the December board meeting from the scheduled date of Dec. 26 at 6 p.m. to December 19 at 5 p.m. to move it away from the Christmas holiday. The earlier start time is due to the Packers playing on Monday Night Football that night. Fleegel cautioned that one of the goals of the district is to hold board meetings at a time when people can attend. It was noted Dec. 19 does not conflict with any holiday concerts.
Approved authorizing Sullivan to spend up to $10,000 on a staff holiday party to be held on February 18 at Centennial Community Center. Sullivan, who had estimated the cost of the event to be between $4,000 and $5,000 to cover the meal prices for staff and their guests, said he would report back with the actual cost. It has been several years since the district held a staff party where they did not ask the staff members to pay for their own meals. Sullivan noted that attendance has declined and said he felt it was important to get the district staff together as a group. Board member Kurt Werner agreed with the benefit of the event and said if it was going to cost $6,000 that is what it would cost. In making the motion not to exceed $10,000 Zuleger said he expected Sullivan to show restraint and not spend it all, but wanted to give him the leeway to not have to come back if the cost was going to slightly over a lower amount. Sullivan said he will report back next month with a firmer number after they get the cost of the meals.
“I will not support a wellness program of any kind. “
— Brian Hallgren, Medford School Board member.