EBR School Board expected to settle on insurance plan

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board plans to settle Thursday night whether it will move thousands of Medicare-eligible retirees off the school system’s self-funded health insurance plan and have them rely solely on Medicare through a privately managed Medicare Advantage Plan.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor has been pushing for the shift to Medicare as a way of saving money and protecting active employees from higher premiums. Last year, the School Board rejected a similar proposal Taylor championed and instead raised rates on all employees, reserving greater increases for retirees.

Some members of a special health care advisory committee, chosen by Taylor to vet health insurance proposals, however, are pressing for an across-the-board increase on both active and retired employees, similar to what was done last year.

Susan Nelson, interim director of communication and external relations for the school system, said Taylor may opt to ignore the committee’s advice.

“There’s a fundamental disagreement between the advisory committee and the superintendent on the across-the-board increases,” Nelson said. “He disagrees with it because it will be a decrease in pay for active employees.”

Active employees have not received a raise in several years and at the same time have had to contribute more to their health insurance. Retiree advocates counter that retirees live on fixed incomes, and they have not seen a cost-of-living increase in their pensions either.

The worst impact may strike yet another group of retirees, so-called non-Medicare retirees. These retirees, who are expected to number almost 2,000 in 2014, worked at a time when public school employees were not eligible for Medicare and are insured solely by the school system group plan, administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana.

Mercer, a health care consulting firm hired by the school system, has found that based on their respective medical claims history, there is no need to increase premiums for active employees.

The amount of money in premiums generated by non-Medicare retiree premiums would need to increase by 10 percent in 2014, or $2.3 million more, to cover their expected claims, according to Mercer.

The proposed new premiums, though, are much more than 10 percent for the non-Medicare retirees. The premiums range from about 25 percent to nearly 54 percent. These retirees would pay $72 to $185 a year more than they pay now in premiums, depending on whether they are single or if they have families on the plan.

Nelson explained that retirees use medical care at a higher rate and so they cost more while contributing less per person.

Medicare-eligible retirees generate even less in premiums than non-Medicare retiree compared to their cost, according to Mercer. Medicare-eligible retirees would need to collectively generate 25 percent more than they do now, about $4.4 million, to cover the shortfall, according to Mercer.

Moving to Medicare Advantage would likely mean no increase in premiums at all for these retirees, Nelson said.

Nelson also noted the school system recently surveyed school districts in Louisiana, largers ones and ones in the Baton Rouge area. Of the 11 districts who responded, only Caddo Parish didn’t employ a Medicare Advantage plan. Nelson also said state and city-parish employees also use these plans.

These Medicare-eligible retirees, according to the latests estimates by Mercer, are expected to number almost 2,900 in 2014. It’s not clear how much higher their premiums would go up if the School Board again shies away from the Medicare Advantage idea.

Over the past year of debate, fear of the future of Medicare and worries whether doctors will continue to participate in the federal program for the elderly have dominated discussion.

Instead, some retirees are pushing for an across-the-board increase.

In February, Mercer calculated that an across-the-board increase would have to be 12 percent more in premiums for everyone, but in April, it lowered its costs estimates for 2014. Mercer hasn’t released a revised across-the-board calculation.