Insurance rates in flux for town employees
Date: 1/23/2012Jan. 23, 2012
By Chris Mazachrism@thereminder.com
GREATER SPRINGFIELD Changes are coming to subscribers of local town health insurance plans.
The Scantic Valley Regional Health Trust, which serves East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Hampden, Wilbraham, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District and the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, will make an alteration to its health insurance offering, which would increase co-pays for town employees, while lowering premium costs.
At its Jan. 17 meeting, the East Longmeadow Board of Selectmen voted to accept the changes.
Selectmen James Driscoll and Jack Villamaino both voted to approve the measure, while Selectman Paul Federici recused himself from the vote because he receives insurance through the town.
“This plan change would increase co-pays ... but not real significant changes,” Town Accountant Thomas Caliento, who represents East Longmeadow in the Scantic Valley Regional Health Trust, said. “To offset that, there will be a drop in rates. Our rates could drop up to 5 percent. That’s difficult to project right now, but we will see a rate decrease.”
Scott LaFond of the Department of Public Works questioned whether or not the town had any other options before accepting the changes.
“We could go with the state group, which doesn’t offer as competitive pricing as we do through Scantic [Valley],” Driscoll said. “Scantic Valley’s [rates] consistently outperform … the state and any other associations that we’ve been able to participate in. Obviously going it alone or self-insuring would be a far greater cost to the town.”
Caliento explained that even with the changes, the group’s health insurance plan would still be a better option than plans through the state’s Group Insurance Commission [GIC].
“This plan change would have more advantages than the GIC, primarily because it doesn’t have deductibles,” he said.
Driscoll also pointed out that 25 percent of the savings in premiums must be passed on to employees from the town in some fashion.
“We could, as a town, take the savings and pass it back to our subscribers to help offset any [co-pay increases],” he said. “It’s an option we have, which I would support.”
In discussing options with the other entities in the Scantic Valley Regional Health Trust, an increase in the percentage employees contributed to insurance was explored, but dismissed by most communities.
“We didn’t think it was fair to double hit everyone [co-pays] and premium increases,” Driscoll said.
Caliento said that Longmeadow voted “as a single town to offer their employees a plan that is closer to the GIC and thus will have the deductibles. The other towns did not.”
Arelene Miller, chair of the Scantic Valley Regional Health Trust and Longmeadow representative told Reminder Publications
that in addition to the co-pay increases, Longmeadow did adopt a change to include deductibles.
“We were told by an actuary who reviewed our experience and our plans that if we included the deductible, we would be able to lower the premiums another 3 percent,” she said. “It was the decision of the Select Board, who determined that by reducing premiums, it would more than pay for the deductible increase and would benefit town employees greatly.”
Miller added that deductibles are only applied to certain medical procedures.
“The deductibles are only in effect for non-routine measures,” she said. “Anyone who takes reasonably good care of themselves and is in good health most likely would not have to pay any deductible and would benefit from the savings.”
The Wilbraham Board of Selectmen also accepted the plan with co-pay increases through a unanimous vote at its Jan. 9 meeting.
“You lose, basically, local control,” Wilbraham Treasurer Thomas Sullivan told the Selectmen when asked what would happen if the town opted out of the trust in favor of GIC. “What we can do is have local control over the plan, still do the wellness that we’re doing and still be comparable to the GIC.”