Education associations’ proposal shakes up health care issue

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Saturday, February 27, 2016 9:23pm
  • News

The Kenai Peninsula Education and Kenai Peninsula Education Support associations’ newest proposal would void all previous health care plans discussed with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District during this round of collective bargaining.

The associations are proposing the school district sign on with the Public Education Health Trust, a program associated with the National Education Association of Alaska that provides and manages insurance for large-scale educational institutions.

Joining the trust would alleviate some financial “uncertainty” in the school district’s current health care system, which is self-funded, and an outside company would manage all employees’ plans, said Matt Fischer, representative for the association’s negotiating teams.

Up until early February, the three negotiating teams had been stuck on the issue of health care, specifically the implementation of a high-deductible plan that would be the sole option for employees with the chance to opt out and seek insurance elsewhere. Employees who chose to sign up with the school district would pay a deductible until a maximum out-of-pocket is reached.

The school district, represented by Anchorage-based lawyer Saul Friedman, preferred a $1,500 cap on the per employee, per month costs associated with the plan, while the associations preferred a $1,700 cap with the school district paying 85 percent of an employee’s medical expenses once the cap is reached.

The subject led to a stalemate in late January. The three teams agreed to schedule arbitration. Oregon-based arbiter Gary Axon was mutually selected to meet with the teams on June 1-2, and the cost would be evenly distributed.

The three teams will most likely meet again before arbitration, said Pegge Erkeneff, school district spokesperson.

“The district is hopeful that a date prior to arbitration will be set, and anticipates that as soon as the critical information about cost and benefits from the Public Education Health Trust (PEHT) is available with a representative to answer questions, a date could be mutually agreed upon to return to the bargaining table with the associations,” Erkeneff said.

In fact, a date had been set for Feb. 22, but requested information was not yet available from the trust, she said.

“In analyzing the proposal, associated costs and benefits, KPBSD requested that at the next negotiating session that a representative from the PEHT would be available to answer specific questions about the cost and benefits of the PEHT if it were to be selected by KPBSD,” Erkeneff said.

Fischer said the school district has to also apply to the trust, and find out if it would be accepted as a client.

Health care is one of the most contentious issues in the school district, Fischer said. The employee pool has become too big to be easily manageable as a self-funded entity, he said.

If adopted, the associations’ proposal would save millions annually for the school district, “which includes paying employees that have other insurance $400 per month to opt out in instead of a full policy, saving the District  $1,180 per month,” Fischer said.

It would equate to savings because the school district is already paying $1,580 a month in per employee, per month costs, he said.

“A really big concession we agreed to in our proposal is that new employees would only be eligible for health care if they work 0.75 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) or more,” Fischer said. “Currently it is 0.5 FTE or more.”

Dates for subsequent meetings will be moved around as information becomes available, Fischer said.

The negotiations were supposed to settle contracts set to begin on July 1, 2015.

 

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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