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Health insurance changes could be on horizon for Pinellas County Schools

Board members are considering changes to the Pinellas County School District’s health insurance plan that would increase out-of-pocket costs for employees.

During its workshop today, board members looked at a proposed plan that would include a $2,500 individual deductible and a $5,000 family deductible. The district’s current plan has no deductible at all.

The proposed plan also would require employees to pay 20 percent of costs after the deductible is met. Employees now have set costs for hospital visits, emergency room trips and urgent care.

Superintendent John Stewart told board members that they need to consider a change in health insurance because of rising costs. The district’s plan costs $120 million this year; next year, it’s estimated to cost $127 million. (Employees pay 20 percent of that.)

“Going forward you have to do something or the bleeding will never stop,” Stewart said.

District officials estimate that the proposed plan would save the district about $20 million. Some of that money could be used for salary increases for employees.

Board member Linda Lerner said she was concerned about the effect on employees, particularly those making the lowest salaries. She also requested a comparison of neighboring counties’ costs.

“If you go to this so many of our employees will absolutely not be able to be part of this,” she said.

District officials said the proposed plan could save money for some employees. Payroll deductions would be lower, while out-of-pocket costs would be higher. Healthy employees – those who rarely see a doctor and don’t have pricey prescription drugs – could see a savings.

Employees could use flexible health accounts, putting aside pre-tax dollars for expected health costs. The district also is considering whether to offer “gap insurance.” Employees could pay a monthly fee for insurance that would cover the cost of deductibles.

Still, the proposed plan would be a big change for employees who do require medical care.

An arthroscopic knee surgery, for instance, would cost $3,500 (with deductible and 20 percent cost) if the procedure was done in a hospital – that’s compared to $300 with the current plan. (If the deductible had been met, the cost under the proposed plan would be $1,500.)

Maximum yearly costs under the new plan would be $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a family, including the deductible. That’s double the annual maximum cost with the current plan.

Board members will discuss the plan further on Monday during another workshop meeting. Any change to health insurance also would have to be negotiated with the unions.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 31, 2012 1:27pm]


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