ATLANTA -- Rising costs for health insurance is prompting school boards across Georgia to search for alternatives to the State Health Benefit Plan.
School districts are required by law to enroll their teachers in the state plan that’s managed by the Department of Community Health. They can opt not to use it to cover custodians, lunchroom workers and others who don’t have a teaching certificate, and that’s what they’re considering.
“This is the first topic that has come up that I have actually seen school systems band together, and they’re standing up and saying no,” said Alice Marchman, finance director with the Burke County school system.
As school districts cope with slumping tax collections and lean state appropriations, they’re constantly searching for ways to save money.
Marchman estimates health premiums for the Burke system have nearly doubled in one year.
Since most of their expenses go to salaries and wages, any way to economize that avoids layoffs and is especially sought after, she notes.
What prompted the quest for a new insurance provider is a decision by the state that’s boosting the employer’s share of monthly premiums by $150 this year and by that much more in each of the next two years. Increases for the worker’s share has been more modest and comparable to other health plans.
The jump resulted from the General Assembly’s decision to stop paying the employer’s share. The Board of Community Health chose to phase in the change over three years, expanding the deficit in the meantime.
Every system that pulls out actually makes the rest of the plan financially stronger, according to Pam Keene, media and relations manager for the department.
“The Non-Certificated Public School Employees plan is running in a deficit situation,” she said. “As long as that plan is operating in a deficit, system’s decision to stop offering the Non-Certificated Public School Employees plan would improve the financial stability of the Teachers’ plan and the State Employees’ plan.”
Finding a better bargain may be difficult. The department estimates its administrative costs are less than 5 percent. For commercial plans, the Congressional Budget Office found the average to be around 12 percent.
So far, no magic answer has materialized, according to Sis Henry, executive director of the Georgia School Boards Association.
“There has been talk about that, but to the my knowledge, there is no solution,” she said.