Schools to pay same health insurance rate

BAR HARBOR — All nine schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) will now be able to pay the same group rate for health insurance, potentially lowering the cost for both the schools, their employees and, by extension, taxpapers.

Currently, annual changes in Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield’s insurance premiums for the larger schools in the district – those with 50 or more employees and eligible retirees – are based on each school’s claims experience. Smaller schools all pay the same rate.

A bill passed by the Legislature last spring allows the MDIRSS and the handful of other “alternative organization structure” (AOS) school districts in the state to pay a single rate for employees’ health insurance. In an AOS, each school is largely independent, and its teachers and staff are employees of the school, not the district. So, until now, they were not eligible for district-wide group health insurance rates.

The legislation introduced by Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) and co-sponsored by Sen. Brian Langley (R-Ellsworth) allows an AOS to purchase “a single health insurance policy that is offered to all eligible employees and retirees of the (AOS) and its member school administrative units and their dependents.”

Over the past month, the school committees in each of the eight towns with an MDIRSS elementary school, plus the high school board, have voted to join the group health plan. The AOS board gave its approval Monday night.

“Coming together as one entity, we will have a larger pool [of insured employees], and historically, the larger the pool, there’s more propensity for rate stability and keeping costs down,” said MDIRSS Superintendent Marc Gousse.

“I think this is a huge step toward doing more things collaboratively that allows us to operate much more efficiently as a school system.”

Currently, the MDIRSS schools pay 83 percent of health insurance costs and the employees and retirees pay 17 percent. Under the contract that the schools and their employees hammered out last year, the schools’ share of insurance costs will drop to 82 percent next year.

Rep. Hubbell’s AOS group health insurance bill became law March 31 when the Legislature overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto.

“While I support the principle of enabling (AOSs) to use scale to lower the cost of the insurance benefits they provide, this bill does not go far enough,” LePage wrote in his veto message.

“Given the number of teachers and public employees throughout the state, there is much more we could do to allow municipal employees, state employees, university and community college employees, among others, to pool together to achieve cost savings.”

The governor called the AOS group insurance bill “a narrow solution to a broad problem.”

The Maine Senate overrode the governor’s veto on a 134-13 vote. The Senate voted 30-3 to override.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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