School employees insurance could force difficult decisions

Imagine, if you will, working soley to pay your families health insurance costs. There would be no check each week coming to you, and in some cases, you find yourself having to write a check to your employer to cover health insurance after the premiums took your entire pay.

This scenario may seem far fetched to a lot of us, but it is a real problem that all public school employees are facing at this time.

On January 1, 2014, school employees’ health coverage will drastically change. The premiums will go up while the coverages decrease.

One Monticello School District employee, who has been employed with the district for over 20 years and has asked to remain annonymous, says she will end up paying the district to work because her husband has pre-existing conditions and she simply cannot change insurance carriers.

“If I keep everything like it is right now, I’ll have to pay the district $150 each month in addition to my entire paycheck,” she said. “If I drop a few of the benefits and make policy changes, I could reduce my costs to where I would only owe the district $40 each month, but I still wouldn’t see a penny of my paycheck.”

The sad truth is that she is not alone. 

Another teacher, who’s husband is also a teacher, said they would not be able to keep their insurance through the school because of the increases.

“I’m not really sure what we are going to do, but I know we can’t pay as much as they want us to for health insurance,” she said.

Drew Central School employees are similarly concerned about the insurance increase.

One Drew Central employee said her medication and doctor visits combined with her insurance premiums will gobble up most of her income as a teacher.

“I have health issues and I am on medication,” she said. “I will have to pay a lot more for those prescriptions and more for the coverage. I’d almost be better off to retire at this point. If it gets any worse I will have to retire.”

There are countless stories like these three scenarios in Drew County and across the state of Arkansas. One Monticello teacher said she’s happy her husband got a new job that has good insurance or she simply wouldn’t know what to do.

“It’s just horrible,” she said. “I don’t see how they can expect us to pay so much and still be able to live.”

So how much are we talking about?

According to the Arkansas Education Association, school districts across the state offer the same coverage. They are given a choice between the gold, silver and bronze coverage tiers. The gold has the best coverage with lower copays and no deductibles while the bronze tier has the highest deductible set at $2,000.

Pam Barnett, payroll clerk for Monticello, said most of their employees currently have the gold plan, especially if they are single, but she anticipates that to change before the new insurance premiums and coverage goes into effect Jan. 1. simply because of the cost.

Barnet said the population hit by the new pricing the most will be employees’ families.

She said to have the family gold plan, the employee is already paying almost $1,000 per month. However, in January the premium will increase to $1,529.

“That’s more than some employees make,” Barnett said.

Debra West, an AEA board member, said she has been told the reasoning behind the increase is due to the claims made by teachers last year.

“We have a high stress job,” West said. “A lot of teachers are on high blood pressure medications and other medications to help deal with the stress.”

There is some speculation that another reason the insurance is going up is that most educators are women, who have babies and other medical expenses related to child delivery. However, no one has gone on record that this is an exact cause.

“This is making new teachers not want to have insurance through their work, which will make it go up even more as time goes on,” West said.

In the last few weeks, there has been a strong call from AEA and other teachers and education groups in the state legislature to come up with a solution for this problem.

There was a meeting Monday to begin that process. However, the new legislative season will not begin until February 2014, and the new premiums and coverages will go into affect on Jan. 1—over a month before the legislature returns to Little Rock.

To make things worse, school employees must decide in October if they will keep the benefits they have or decrease them or drop them altogether.

The Advance Monticellonian will continue to provide information on the situation as it becomes available.

The Advance-Monticellonian

Mailing Address:
PO Box 486
Monticello, AR 71657

Street Address:
314 Main Street
Monticello, AR 71655

Phone: 870-367-5325
Fax: 870-367-6612

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