Schools, County to remain together on health insurance coverage

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: June 6, 2018 | 1:15 p.m.

PRINCE GEORGE – After a lengthy back and forth between the Prince George Board of Supervisors and the Prince George County School Board, an agreement has been reached that would see both entities remain together in their efforts to provide health insurance coverage to their respective employee groups for the upcoming year. 

Supervisors voted unanimously to remain combined with the school division and renew their health insurance coverage with Anthem for the 2019 fiscal year, which starts July 1. The decision comes after debate over the pros and cons of either separating or remaining combined and a request for additional funding from Prince George Public Schools over the course of discussions on the topic by county leaders. 

Providing insight and detailed numbers of the two scenarios was county finance director Betsy Drewry, who spent the April 24 and May 8 meeting explaining to supervisors the fiscal impacts of the options before the board.

During both meetings, Drewry explained that both the school division and county each sought out separate and combined renewal estimates over the course of the late winter of this year. Those numbers stated that if the county and schools were to separate, the county would see a 16 percent increase in rates, which was already calculated into the county’s then-proposed budget for the upcoming year as that cost increase would be absorbed by the county and not passed along to employees, while the school division would see a three percent increase in rates. 

In addition, had the county and schools opted to separate, the county would have “experienced some minor reductions in benefit offerings,” according to county documents, and the “ability to customize health plan offerings would also be eliminated.” 

The school division would have retained the same benefits while showing an increase in rates of three percent.

With the county and school division’s decision to remain combined for health insurance coverage, Drewry explained that there would be a “decrease in fixed costs that would lead to [a] savings primarily on the county side in comparison to a separate renewal,” mainly focused in the areas of stop-loss insurance and administrative fees while the school system’s fixed costs “would remain relatively unchanged in comparison to a separate renewal.”

Remaining together allows the county to maintain its current benefit offerings and would result in a reduced rate increase of only 12.7 percent as opposed to the 16 percent that would have been seen as part of a separate renewal. As a result, the county’s health insurance general fund expenditures would drop by roughly $47,500 due to the lower premium increase.

When it came time to make a decision on the schools and county remaining combined, supervisors had questions about actions taken by the Prince George School Board that led to the matter being tabled until their May meeting to allow further time for clarification. 

During their meeting on April 16, the Prince George School Board voted to renew with Anthem and “remain self-insured on a stand-alone basis,” essentially separating from the county. Three days later, a letter from Prince George Schools Superintendent Renee Williams to County Administrator Percy Ashcraft said the previously adopted motion to separate from the county had been amended to state “the schools will stay combined with the county at the county’s current FY2018 insurance rates and employee contribution levels, including H.S.A. amounts,” adding the school board “is requesting the county absorb the additional cost to schools of $254,000 for FY2019.”

According to county finance staff, the additional funding would make it so that school division’s rates mirror those of the county.

That additional request for funding at a time when the school division was seeking to have $2.7 million in unspent dollars from the previous year returned to them as part of a carryover funding request for various capital projects did not sit well with supervisors, who briefly considered and nearly voted to separate from the school division and go about providing health insurance to their employees on their own, before retraction the motion and tabling the discussion until May.

Shortly after that meeting, another correspondence from the school division was sent to County Administrator Ashcraft advising him that a third action on health insurance was taken by the Prince George School Board during their meeting on April 26. On a motion by school board member Kevin Foster, the board voted to “stay joined with the County for health insurance as a joint owner of the insurance plan; adopt a three-percent increase in the school division’s insurance rate as proposed by its Health Insurance Consultant, Pierce Group, and retain the school division’s current Health Savings Account levels.”

One thing that remained unchanged through the series of motions was the school division’s request for $254,000 to allow for school system insurance rate to match those of the county, something Drewry said staff had not identified a funding source for in the lead-up to this month’s decision, leading some supervisors to ponder if the school division’s carryover funding can be used to cover that request.

In May, that action occurred as supervisors agreed to remain combined with Prince George County Public Schools for the upcoming year, with $254,000 of the approved $1.6 million in carryover funds from the previous fiscal year being held until FY2019 to “assist with reducing employee health insurance contributions.”

No matter if the county had remained combined or separated from the school division for health insurance coverage, finance director Drewry said the county was committed to ensuring those increased costs projected in the renewals would not be passed along to employees and would, in fact, be absorbed by the county.

Along with their motion to remain joined with the school system, supervisors also approved renewals for the county’s voluntary vision and dental insurance. 

According to Drewry, the county’s dental insurance offering from Delta Dental of Virginia sees no increases for active employees and retirees. In regards to vision insurance, offered through Blue View Vision as part of Anthem, Drewry said “slight increases” to employees and retirees’ rates are expected, “ranging from 39 cents to $1.12 per month varying with dependents on coverage.”

Of the dental insurance coverage, Drewry noted that both the county and school division have “pursued and recommend separate dental renewals.”

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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