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Schools’ health coverage reviewed

MANATEE — When school Superintendent Tim McGonegal looked at recent figures on the district’s health insurance plan he realized there wouldn’t be an $8 million savings as he anticipated this year.

So as the school board prepares to vote on the final 2009-10 budget next month, the health plan is under review.

“Preliminary results of operations reflect that our health insurance fund is not where we wanted it to be as of June 2009,” McGonegal said Wednesday.

Although numbers are not finalized for the 2008-09 school year, it’s likely the district spent about $38 million on health insurance for employees, retirees and dependents, said district Risk Manager Forrest Branscomb. The district in 2007-08 spent $37 million on health care.

In September 2008, the district changed the health plans in an effort to reduce a deficit in its insurance fund. “We were supposed to save $8 million in additional costs and have not,” McGonegal said.

If the district had not made any changes, its health care cost for 2008-09 would have been about $43.5 million, Branscomb said.

“We haven’t closed our books yet for 2008-09,” McGonegal said. “Once we have the data, we will sit down with the actuary and Blue Cross Blue Shield and figure out why. We will look at the revenues and expenditures in 2008 and so far in 2009 and where are we financially.”

Whether premiums will go up or benefits will be changed is still too early to project, school officials say.

Blue Cross Blue Shield distributes the district’s self-funded insurance program. Data are expected in the next few weeks to be received from Blue Cross Blue Shield and Walgreens, who manages prescription benefits.

“If changes are needed we will work them through the employee group and Health Insurance Committee,” McGonegal said. The committee consists of management from two unions: the Manatee Education Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Currently district employees including teachers, custodians and administrators choose from three health plans.

Employees have their choice of paying premiums that are approximately $10, $47 or $100 a month for single coverages with different co-pays and deductibles. The figures increase if employees include their spouses or children.

The school board last week approved a tentative $697 million budget for the upcoming school year.

The 2009-10 final budget, if adopted on Sept. 10, would still be about $13.6 million smaller than the current budget. Cuts include eliminating 48 district office positions and axing assistant principals in nine schools.

The district needs to slash about $25 million during the next three years, McGonegal has said.