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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 7, 2009

To save money on insurance
School district looks to change health habits

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school district here is looking to change some health habits for workers so that it can save money.

“Health insurance,” said school board President Richard Weisz, “is 10 percent of our budget.” The board has proposed an $85 million budget for next year.

Weisz was responding to a report at last Tuesday’s board meeting from Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders on decisions for the next school year reached by the district’s health insurance committee.

Unlike most districts, Guilderland does not negotiate health benefits during the collective-bargaining process with labor unions. Instead, for nearly four decades, Guilderland has had a District Health Insurance Committee, which includes representatives from each of its 11 bargaining units. The district currently has 829 full-time and 208 part-time employees.

This year, the committee reviewed a report from Blue Shield that analyzed “the clinical drivers of costs to our experienced rated health plans,” Sanders said. The purpose of the study was to identify illnesses that contribute most to Guilderland’s claims costs so that “the district can seek to identify measures that focus on the prevention and early detection of these illnesses thereby avoiding long-term, expensive treatment options,” Sanders said.

Four “clinical drivers” were identified — cancer; muskulosketal and connective tissue cases, predominately osteoarthritis; digestive issues such as gall stones, hernias, and appendicitis; and diabetes.

Several actions were recommended to improve health and reduce costs. One is to use Blue Shield’s case management services. Another is to promote preventative care. A third is to conduct a health fair at the school to increase workers’ “health awareness.” And a fourth is to use the BlueLife worksite wellness program, where subscribers use customized “web portal tools” to improve their goals and health.

Workers can “put in goals like ‘stop smoking’ or ‘lose weight,’” said Sanders that can then be tracked.

Four plans

Guilderland offers four medical plans. In each case, the district pays 80 percent of the health coverage and employees make up the other 20 percent.

Health insurance — covering medical, dental, and prescription drug costs — is offered to hourly employees who work at least 20 hours a week and to salaried employees who work half-time or more.

Retirees can continue the district’s group health insurance plan if they have worked for the district for at least 10 years. Most of the bargaining units offer benefits for surviving spouses.

Although workers are eligible for coverage, participation is optional.

“Each of the plans has a different niche,” Sanders told the board last week. He said a study several years ago showed switching to a singe plan turned out not to be cost-effective.

“Offering more than one plan, they compete against each other,” said board member Colleen O’Connell.

The committee recommended next year continuing three of the district’s four medical plans with no change in benefits:

— Blue Shield Preferred Provider Organization, an experience-rated plan, meaning that premium rate increases are influenced by the cost of claims incurred: $20 office co-pay with vision and dental coverage, with a rate renewal increase of 9.7 percent;

— Blue Shield point-of service, or POS, plan: $20 office co-pay with dental coverage, with a rate renewal increase of 14.6 percent; and

— Capital District Physicians Health Plan, a health-maintenance organization, which files for rate increases with the state: $25 office co-pay with dental coverage, with a rate renewal increase of 14.4 percent.

Sanders said that a new tax, part of the governor’s Deficit Reduction Act, helped boost the rates. The overall increase for the Capital Area Schools Health Insurance trust, he said, was 12 percent while Guilderland’s increase was below the average with an overall increase of 10.7 percent for the two Blue Shield plan options.

The final plan offered by the district — Mohawk Valley Physicians, a health-maintenance organization plan — is, because of changes mandated by the carrier, increasing the office visit co-pay from $20 to $25, increasing the outpatient surgery co-pay from $20 to $75, and adding a $240 inpatient hospital co-pay.


There will be no change in plan design for Express Scripts, self-insured drug coverage, and the CanaRx mail-order prescription plan will continue for brand-name maintenance medications. Both workers and the district save with the CanaRx plan since there is no co-pay and the cost of the imported drugs is lower

The district will continue offering a Medicare choice plan option for retired workers over the age of 65.

Next year, new programs will be offered to increase the use of generic drugs and of lower-cost mail-order drugs. The Zero Dollar Copay Program lets workers switch from brand-name to less expensive drugs by requiring no co-pay for six months. A second program makes phone calls and sends letters to raise awareness about savings from mail-order over pharmacy-dispensed drugs.

“Health insurance is an area of intense activity across school districts everywhere,” said Superintendent John McGuire. He also said that well-intentioned suggestions to save money are often things the district has already done or already explored and rejected.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Applauded the current class of educators to receive tenure.

“This is only the beginning,” said Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Lin Severance, noting the district had hired “the very best.”

“Thank you so much for your dedication,” said board President Weisz;

— Heard from two members of the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee with complaints about the $85 million budget the board finally adopted.

The board included full-day kindergarten in the budget after many on the citizens’ committee had advised against it because of the tough economic times. The public votes on the budget on May 19.

“If they vote it down, we’ll come back without the full-day K,” Weisz had said to convince board members to go for the plan, ultimately getting the five-member majority.

“Some kind of consensus-building should be going on,” Timothy Burke said told the board of the CBAC process at the start of the meeting. He also said to call the budget vote a referendum on full-day kindergarten was “simply not fair.”

At the end of the school board meeting, Carolyn Kelly, another CBAC member, said that she was disappointed that full-day kindergarten was put back in the budget “at the last minute.”

”I was really, really concerned our voices here in the community were not heard,” she said.

Kelly also said, with the construction work at the elementary schools this summer, it would be difficult for teachers to get into their classrooms to prepare for the change from half-day, and she scolded the district for telling parents of next year’s kindergartners that it will be a full-day program.

“It’s not a go yet,” said Kelly.

She concluded, “We’re asking the community to vote the budget down...I’ve never seen such a cavalier attitude...Every day, I hear of more people who have lost their jobs...”;

— Heard from Superintendent McGuire that the district, to combat swine flu, is asking people to wash their hands and stay home if they are sick.

“There’s no reason for panic...It’s a preventative war, a war of information,” he said. “At this point in time, we’re happy, we’re healthy, and we’re in preventative mode”;

— Heard from McGuire that the $27 million project to renovate the district’s five elementary schools, upgrade technology, and move the district offices to the high school got off to a good start over the April recess.

“Let’s hope the entire project goes as well,” he said;

— Awarded QCQA Laboratories, Inc., with the lowest bid of three vendors meeting specifications for testing and special inspection services for the capital project.

Over the 18-month construction project, QCQA will inspect conditions and materials as well as performing lab tests to make sure products and materials meet architectural specifications. It is estimated the total cost will be about $38,000;

— Approved a contract with Bell’s Auto Driving School for behind-the-wheel driver education for next summer at a cost of $310 per student, and appointed Roderick MacDonald as the in-class instructor, to be paid $51.40 per hour;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that Guilderland was named one of the Best Communities for Music Education by the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Foundation;

— Learned that junior Samantha Crouse, daughter of Robin and Jay Crouse, won a school competition to perform a solo at the high school’s spring concert on June 2, beginning at 7:30 p.m. She will play the first movement of the Haydn Oboe Concerto in C Major accompanied by the High School Chamber Strings.

The concert, which will also feature performances by the Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band, is free and open to the public;

— Heard that seventh-grader Michelle Kange placed first at the regional competition for National History Day for her documentary on Clara Barton. Sixth-graders Shannon Gerety and Hannah Hernandez came in second for their documentary on John Lennon. And sixth-grader Ben Goes was third for his paper on Ronald Reagan.

Seventh-grader Michelle Saucedo-Arenas won two awards — third for her website on Madame Curie and she won the Women’s History Award.

Other Farnsworth Middle School students who participated included Isaac Malsky, Samantha Coons, Cody Ingraham, Zoe Elwell, and Amy Toscano — all of whom completed individual exhibits — and Andrew Fedorov, who created a documentary.

Guilderland High School students also participated. Juniors Casey Gerety and Sohee Rho took first place for their documentary on Edward R. Murrow. Jean Kang, a senior, entered a paper on George Washington;

— Eighth-grader Joey Fazzone won second place and $300 in the National Science Competition at the Rochester Institute of Technology for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

His study involved earthworms and their reaction to different colors of light;

— Heard congratulations for Betty Ahearn, Westmere Elementary School librarian, because Westmere was one of over 4,000 schools and public libraries to receive a “Picturing America” bookshelf from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The school will receive a set of 17 books along with other materials as part of the “We the People” program, which supports projects that teach American history and culture;

— Heard congratulations for Lynne Wells, the supervisor for language arts, reading, and social studies at Farnsworth Middle School for receiving the 2009 CDAWA Leadership Incentive Award from the Capital District Association for Women in Administration;

— Agreed to hold coffee klatches on May 9 at the Guilderland YMCA and on May 16 at the Guilderland Public Library so that residents can talk informally with school board members; and

— Met in executive session for a negotiations update and to discuss a contract ratification.

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