Health insurance changes tops IW teacher requests

Published 2:46 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

Salaries took a back seat to health insurance this year as the top concern for employees of Isle of Wight County schools, according to a recent study presented at this month’s School Board meeting.

Director of Human Resources Cheryl Elliot formed a committee of 18-20 employees from various departments and levels within the schools, who reported that monthly premiums, deductibles and “out of pocket” expenses in the division’s health insurance plan are too high. 

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“Normally, from an HR perspective, I expected everybody to say ‘we want more money,’” said Elliot to the School Board Thursday, Feb. 9. “But actually, we concluded that the prevailing concern among committee members is our current health insurance benefits.”

Seventy percent of the division’s employees use its health insurance benefits, which is currently under Optima Health, according to Elliot. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The division is currently in the process of bidding out its insurance again this year, a process conducted by its benefits consultant, Mark III.

Of the 70 percent of employees who use its health insurance benefits, 70 percent participate in the division’s high deductible health savings account (HSA) plan.

For an individual employee, it’s currently a $2,600 deductible.

“If you go to the doctor, you have to pay out of pocket until you reach that deductible,” said Elliot of the current plan.

Isle of Wight County contributes $100 a month into each employee’s account, so that by the end of the year, if an employee has not gone to the doctor, he or she will have accumulated $1,200 in the HSA.

Elliot proposed that the division “preload” the $1,200 at the beginning of the plan year in October, so that it is available upfront for employees.

“Because we find people put off going to the doctor until they get some money in their health savings account so they don’t have to pay out of pocket,” Elliot said. “This could be a huge benefit for our employees.”

While the division’s health care has been a headache for many of its employees, it has also been a major factor keeping retirement-age employees from retiring, according to Elliot.

“Often employees that are eligible for full retirement benefits don’t retire because they can’t. They’ve got to have health insurance,” Elliot said.

The division will offer an early retirement incentive program for the first time in three or four years for fiscal year 2018, according to Elliot

Elliot recommended hiring retirement-age teachers as substitutes through Source4Teachers, a company that recruits and trains substitute teachers for divisions, which would cost Isle of Wight County schools $129.29 per day when a substitute works. If a retirement-age teacher substitutes for 25 days in the school year, the division would save $3,232 per year, per retiree for its substitute funds, according to Elliot.

“This is a huge benefit for retirees who really are ready to go, but maybe not quite ready to go,” said Elliot. “They’d like to come in and sub a little bit, but they’d also like to continue health insurance, so in turn they give us 25 days back in substitute teaching.”

The cost of keeping a retiree covered under the division’s health insurance is $5,940 annually, according to Elliot, which creates a difference of $2,707 for every retiree.

“The benefit to students is that they get a highly qualified, experienced teacher to come in to be their substitute,” Elliot said.

It was a tight budget presented for Isle of Wight County schools Thursday, but employee raises were indeed a topic discussed by Elliot’s committee. Elliot found that a 2 percent salary increase “across the board” would cost the division an additional $590,126.

“We may not be able to do that this year, but what we want to stress is that we don’t want to go backward,” said Elliot to the Board. “We want to stay competitive.”

Elliot noted that a lot of the division’s employees said they were happy with the amount they made, but wanted help with their health insurance.

“That kept resounding, over and over,” she said.

Nurses, however, have been requesting salary increases based on their education and experience “for years,” according to Elliot.

Currently, the division’s 10 nurses fall $2,000 below the average midpoint for nurses’ salaries in the area, Elliot said, some “well below” the average, based on their experience.

Elliot suggested looking into offering a stipend for its three nurses who have a Bachelors degree, just as it does with teachers. With benefits, the salary increase for nurses would impact the division’s budget by approximately $22,000, according to Elliot.  {/mprestriction}