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The Kenosha Unified School Board selected a new insurance carrier for its employees, including teachers, Tuesday night, dropping long-time provider WEA Trust and drawing the ire of many in attendance.

The board voted 6-0 in selecting UnitedHealthcare’s Wisconsin Filed provider and selected a fully-insured high deductible plan with annual deductibles of $1,500 or $3,000 for single or family coverage, respectively. The plan would includes an option for employer funding of $750 for single and $1,500 family toward a health savings account.

Currently, district employees pay $250, $500 or $750 deductibles for single coverage, and $500, $1000 or $1,500 for families, depending on employee classification.

Voting in favor of the new health care plan were board members Todd Battle, Tom Duncan, Tony Garcia, Gary Kunich, Rebecca Stevens and Board President Dan Wade.

School Board member Mary Modder abstained from voting due to conflict of interest. Modder, a retired Unified teacher, said she had the same insurance benefits afforded district employees and elected to abstain.

Since the fall, administration and the School Board have been meeting along with consultants from Hays Companies, a Milwaukee-based firm that evaluates benefits, as Unified faced a 17.1 percent increase to health insurance premium costs from current WEA Trust when the contract with the provider expires in June.

Under the current provider contract, Unified’s premiums are just over $60.1 million and were projected to increase to more than $70.4 million upon renewal. The district’s total contribution amounts to $50.5 million toward premiums, with employee’s paying total $9.6 million under WEA Trust, according to consultant analysis.

Under the UHC Wisconsin Filed plan voted on by the board, total annual premiums would amount to just under $41.8 million, with an estimated district contribution of $37.2 million and total employee contributions at just under $4.6 million. The district looks to save more than $18.3 million, or 30.6 percent on health care costs this year.

According to Tarik Hamdan, the district’s chief financial officer, the district is already facing a $5.4 million structural deficit.

The board’s decision to sever its more than 30-year relationship with the trust did not sit well with members of the Kenosha Education Association, many of them long-time teachers who showed up by the dozens and who have sacrificed pay increases for insurance that has helped them through medical emergencies.

Jill Jensen, KEA president said the only reason that many of the teachers in the district have elected to stay is because of the high quality health insurance provided by WEA Trust, she said.

“There is only so much more that can be taken away before it reaches a tipping point,” she said.

Teacher Justine Hammelev-Jones reminded the board that teachers have a “right to exceptional care” and that it is not an entitlement.

“The board has the responsibility of being fiscally responsible,” she said. But it also has the responsibility of retaining and attracting high quality teachers, she said.

Board members noted that the employees are getting more providers, will be able to save more money and would also amount to savings to taxpayers.

“That is the key take away,” said Kunich.

Kunich said that the savings in the long run could also help keep class sizes from growing, potential for raises and more prep time for teachers.

While some teachers noted their fears about having to change doctors under a new provider while the health care providers make a profit, Stevens said that that was not the case.

“No one is going to have to switch doctors,” she said. “This is not a sweetheart deal. There are rate caps for years two and three as well.”

Employee premium contribution rates were not voted on at Tuesday’s meeting but are expected to be considered at the March 20 meeting.

Total monthly premiums range from $12,000 to $13,000 a year, depending on employee category and health plan. Employee contributions to that total premium are 6 percent, 10 percent and 12 percent, depending on category.

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