With health insurance premiums increasing every year, the Legislature is looking at a statewide plan for all school district employees.
The Brainerd School District Finance Committee discussed the plan Thursday. Brainerd United Educators, the Brainerd teacher's union, supports this plan.
Union President Kathy Hegstrom said they want the statewide plan to go through the Legislature this session. She said if it doesn't, and the district's health care insurance rates continue to rise, no one will be able to afford it.
If the state passes the plan, every school board in the state would have the option to approve the plan. The plan would be for all school employees, not only teachers.
Hegstrom trusts the plan would work. She said if it is adopted, the school district and the union would not have to negotiate insurance rates every two years.
"It wouldn't bother me if we didn't have to worry about insurance every contract year," Hegstrom said.
The cost of health insurance in the Brainerd district for the past four school years has increased tremendously.
On the family plan, the district paid $420 a month per premium in 1999-2000 and employees paid $60. In 2000-01, the district share stayed the same but the employee share increased to $180 a month. This school year, the district pays $595 a month and the employee contribution decreased to $149 a month. The total family plan premium is $744.
The district's provider is Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Health insurance premiums are not expected to decrease, said Tim Edinger, health care advocate for the union. He said if the rates continue to increase, it is projected in three years the family plan premium will increase to about $1,232 a month.
Edinger said at this rate the district will not be able to offer medical insurance to employees without drastic cuts in the quality of the plan or substantial increases in the employee contribution.
Minnesota schools spend $475 million a year on health care costs.
Some school districts have stopped offering group plans for employees because of the huge increases. And some districts are requiring employees to foot a larger portion of the health care costs.
"The statewide plan will spread risks over a larger pool of employees and help prevent large premiums in individual districts," said Edinger. "Cass Lake premiums rose 70-79 percent last year because of three accidents."
Edinger said if legislators pass the statewide plan and the school board approves it, administrative costs also will decrease. He said school districts that participate in the plan will get an incentive from the state that could potentially reduce the share to employees.
If the Legislature passes the plan and the school district decides to approve the plan, it could be in place by fall.
"We'll lose part of it (local control)," said Edinger with the plan. "But we will still have a local voice."
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