BOE proposes insurance shift for employees

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education has begun its campaign to persuade all school employees to buy in to a new health insurance plan that it says will save almost $900,000 this year.

The board is banking on that plan to help make up a projected $2 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that ends in June.

The board’s proposal, which it posted on its Web site last Wednesday, calls for all employees to switch from either a traditional health insurance plan or a health savings account, which the employee owns, to a health reimbursement account, owned by the school system.

According to the board, among the benefits to employees is that the school system proposes to pay the entire deductible—$2,500 for singles and $5,000 for family plans—through the reimbursement account. The major benefit to the school system is that funds only need to be paid when a claim is incurred, and unused funds can be rolled over from year to year.

A major reason for the board’s projected deficit is high health insurance costs. The board has a self-funded plan, which means it pays for all medical costs incurred, and has set aside $8.3 million, with no reserve account, to pay claims this year.

The board already has spent about $5 million on health claims with seven months to go in the fiscal year. Officials project the insurance account will be underfunded by $700,000 to $1.5 million by the end of June.

The reimbursement account approach, which would be provided by Anthem Lumenos, is the board’s answer to that problem.

According to board documents, which were written by the board’s insurance broker, employees would use account dollars to pay for medical care, and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield would reimburse the school system after reimbursement account funds are spent.

The board says employees would be eligible for immunizations and wellness visits for children, routine exams for adults, adult immunizations, adult screenings, including mammograms; prostate exams, diabetes testing and colorectal cancer screenings.

Mayor Bob Mezzo, who is also a member of the school board, said he believes the board has a difficult task of trying to sell the plan to employees.

“I’m not at all trying to diminish the merits of the proposal, but this conversation should have happened months ago when the climate for having this discussion would have been much better,” he said. “The dialogue has to be strong right now so we can move forward.”

The board wants an answer by Dec. 14 from the three school unions.

The school board says it will likely have to resort to massive layoffs and program cuts if the school unions do not accept the insurance plan and other concessions. The 400-member Naugatuck Teachers’ League has butted heads with Superintendent Dr. John Tindall-Gibson and the school board for several months because of the budget shortfall.

Educators and many others in the community say Tindall-Gibson and the board have done nothing to solve the problem three months into the school year. Teachers overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence in Tindall-Gibson last month, and the Board of Mayor and Burgesses did the same last Tuesday.

Board of Education Secretary David Heller, chairman of the board’s communications committee, said the insurance proposal is a win-win for the board and employees.