BAR HARBOR — Increases in health insurance costs for employees ranging from 13.87 percent for Pemetic Elementary in Southwest Harbor to zero percent for Mount Desert Elementary are being appealed by officials of the regional school system.
Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield notified school districts around the state on March 23 that their premiums would go up by no more than 9.65 percent for the coming year.
Because all nine Mount Desert Island Regional School System schools had factored a 10 percent insurance cost hike into their budgets for next year, they thought they were on firm ground.
Then, on April 5, Superintendent Marc Gousse received from Anthem the actual amount that premiums would be going up for each school in the district. Those increases, in addition to the high and low already cited, were 4.23 percent for Conners Emerson; 12.64 percent for the elementary schools in Tremont, Trenton, Cranberry Isles, Frenchboro and Swans Island, as well as for the school system’s central office; and 13.39 percent for MDI High School.
Currently, the insurance premiums for each category of insurance coverage – single, two adults, family and adult/child – vary from one school to another. Gousse asked Anthem officials about the disparity in rate increases for the coming year. They explained that there needed to be a one-year “disruption” in rate increases in order to achieve a single, district-wide rate going forward.
“They told me there was a leveling process,” he said.
But he told the school system board April 24 that Anthem had said nothing about that when it announced that no school district would see a rate hike of more than 9.65 percent.
“When I got the information [about the rates], I was dumbfounded,” Gousse said.
School board member Caroline Pryor called the disparity in rate increases “absurd.”
“It’s time for the company to do the right thing and honor what they put in writing,” he said. “I do not want to have to involve legal counsel, but I’m prepared to do whatever we need to do to have them meet their responsibility. They will know that our position is firm and that we are willing to go to the mat.”
Following a meeting with Anthem representatives on April 25, Gousse’s tone was more measured and optimistic. He said they had agreed to go back and try to come up with a rate schedule for the coming year that would be acceptable to both parties.
“I’m confident that we’re going to see an alternative plan that allows them to conduct their business as they need to but also addresses the concern we have,” Gousse said.
He said that likely will mean that premiums in Mount Desert and Bar Harbor will go up more than Anthem originally proposed so that the rate hikes for the other schools can be no more than 9.65 percent.
“If we can achieve that, then I think we will have completed the leveling process and, as we go forward, it won’t be complicated,” Gousse said.
He and school system business manager Nancy Thurlow are to meet today (Thursday) with Anthem representatives to find out exactly what the company is proposing.
Charlie Wray, chairman of the school system board, said the zero percent rate increase originally quoted for Mount Desert and the 4.23 percent increase for Conners Emerson look good at first glance but are deceptive.
“People need to recognize that the teachers and staff in Mount Desert and Bar Harbor are currently paying more than those in all the other schools,” he said. “That is what we are trying to rectify. We’re trying to make it so that a teacher in any school is paying the same for their health insurance.”
Given that, he said, it is understandable that rate increases need to be adjusted, with some schools paying more than others to make up for the current disparity.
Along with Gousse and Thurlow, Wray attended the April 25 meeting with Anthem representatives.
“They understand that our goal is to be at a single rate, but it may take a couple of years, and we need to negotiate how to get there,” he said.
Currently, schools pay 83 percent of employees’ health insurance costs. That will dip to 82 percent next year.