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School board should take advantage of insurance savings

America’s healthcare system is fundamentally broken.

On one hand, American doctors and other medical providers work miracles. They put broken bodies back together and heal illnesses that would have been death sentences just a few years ago. On the other hand, the cost of that care is enough to drive those without health insurance into bankruptcy and put even those with coverage in dire financial straits.

This is the reality of the American healthcare system. Government officials and policymakers at the state and national level have made talking about solutions a cottage industry. Like so many pressing national issues, as long as the money continues to flow from special interest lobby groups and self-serving corporations, there will never be any real solution.

All those who pay insurance, whether it is the employer, employees or individuals, feel the pain when premiums go up and coverage goes down. A handful of large claims is enough to drive rates for a group through the roof. A reality of the marketplace is that there is seldom good news when it comes time for insurance renewals. Employers and individuals are increasingly being forced into a Hobson’s choice of having to pay more.

Ever-increasing insurance costs for businesses and local governments is bleeding off America’s economic vitality. Money spent on increased premiums is money not spent on increased wages. It is money that is not there to do necessary maintenance projects. It is money that is not there to serve as a cushion in lean times.

Next Monday, the members of the Medford School Board will have to make a choice on health insurance. They will have to decide between staying with Security Health Plan and paying more or switching to Aspirus Arise and paying much less.

What makes this decision unique is the amount of money on the table. Between the increase proposed by Security and the cut proposed by Arise is a spread of about $560,000. This is a significant amount of money for an employer of any size, let alone one that is answerable to taxpayers. Switching to Arise is the fiscally responsible choice for board members to make. Changing insurance providers will have an immediate savings to the district of $560,000 between this year and next year’s budgets while allowing employees to have substantially similar coverage to what they now have. This is money that will be freed up in the budget for other purposes, such as investing in new curriculum, academic materials, athletics, facilities improvements and staff wages. Putting that money toward improving the education of children in the Medford school district is a far better use than sending it off to sit in an insurance company’s bank account.

There is a cost to this change that should not be overlooked. Changing companies will create disruption for school district employees. For some this disruption may be minor, for others it could be significant. Some may have to change providers or be willing to pick up additional cost for wrap-around plans to access a broader network. Those employees and dependents who live outside the immediate region could see their choices of providers become more limited or may have to travel for routine care. This is the reality of the insurance marketplace. This is the reality of America’s broken healthcare system.

The choice school board members are forced to make is the economic reality that employers and individuals have had to make for years when it comes to deciding on health insurance plans. It is not an any easy choice, nor is it one that should be taken lightly. Board members must look to the health of the district as a whole.