My View: MEABT Insurance Ruling
By Lois Kilby-Chesley, MEA President
Last month you read about health insurance in an article by Christine Burke, Executive Director of MEA Benefits Trust (BT). A bill that passed through the 125th Legislature now requires BT, your insurance trust, to release information about the usage (experience rating) of each school district.
There are several scenarios that could come from this change. The first could be that your district asks to collectively bargain a change during the middle of the contract term. You should be aware of the consequences of “opening up the contract” that would allow a change before the expiration of your current contract. MEA suggests that you say simply, “No. We are not interested.”
If you are presently negotiating, school committees may be asking to discuss changes to the insurance carrier using the experience rating of your district. MEA has many concerns about the changes that may be proposed. One particular concern relates to retiree coverage. A law that has been in existence for years states that teacher retirees from a district must receive the same coverage that active teachers have. When and if discussions about changes occur you should be in contact with your county retiree association, the MEA-Retired and your UniServ director. Talking to retirees during any contract changes while at the table is imperative. Retirees can be valuable allies as your local works to build community support for your position.
If you are asked to consider a different insurance carrier it is important to compare the complete package offer from an interloping insurance carrier to the BT plans. MEA does not believe there is a competitive carrier that can offer the same coverage for the same price for either BT’s Standard Plan or Choice Plan.
Raising the deductible and/or reducing the benefits are only two of the ways that you may receive offers. MEA recommends that rolling back benefits or raising deductibles are not acceptable alternatives.You may receive an offer for a Health Savings Account (HSA) along with a high deductible plan. This is money that an individual may access to help pay down the high deductible by opening a HSA to which the district and individual may add funds. Funds carry over from year to year. Over time, and if medical expenses are low, an account can build assets that can be used tax free for health care or tax-deferred for retirement. Remember, people who are older and more likely to get sick may not have the longitudinal chance to build up assets. Illness is unpredictable and it may be difficult to save enough money to accurately budget for health care. If your district proposes a HSA, MEA encourages you to carefully research the program and to contact your UniServ field staff to get further information.
Whatever your district may propose be sure to:
- Say “No” to opening a collective bargaining agreement in the middle of its term
- Contact your UniServ director before agreeing to any change while negotiating
- Thoroughly research any and all options that are proposed
- Include retirees in your discussions
A district may also put forward a plan similar to the premise of consolidation. Districts may believe that by combining with other districts to seek health insurance carriers they can keep down costs. MEA Benefits Trust has a pool of around 70,000 participants. Swings in cost are mitigated by the sheer size. Smaller groups or districts that opt to go it alone need to recognize the risk. One or two high claimants can devastate a plan’s assets.
MEA Benefits Trust has been in existence for 20 years and its purpose is to advocate for insurance plan participants and provide high quality, affordable health insurance to educators and their families in Maine. MEA recommends that you negotiate language into your contract that specifies Benefits Trust as your insurance carrier.