EBR schools panel debates health care

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISAn advisory panel Wednesday discusses health care costs for employees --- active and retired --- of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.  The panel did not make a decision or recommendations and is expected to meet for a third time in April. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISAn advisory panel Wednesday discusses health care costs for employees --- active and retired --- of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. The panel did not make a decision or recommendations and is expected to meet for a third time in April.

A newly formed advisory group of active and retired East Baton Rouge Parish school system employees debated, but made no recommendations, Wednesday about ways of cutting the cost of health insurance.

The group discussed making no changes — a move that could lead to premium increases of up to 12 percent in 2014 — to ways of moving eligible employees into a variety of Medicare programs.

The group is weighing at least seven options.

“This is to open a line of communications, not to be adversarial in any way,” said Catherine Fletcher, chief business operations officer, to the Advisory Group for Insurance and audience of more than 50 people.

Fletcher said the group will likely reconvene in early April.

She said she wants to get some clarity from the School Board first about how the school system wants to handle changes in health care law that take effect in 2014, changes that are estimated to cost the school system at least $3 million to comply with.

Last summer, the board, facing unexpected opposition, voted down proposals to shift almost 2,700 retirees into a private exchange where they could purchase a Medicare supplemental insurance plan.

Retirees who spoke Wednesday were less harsh than last year, but many still had pointed things to say.

Evelyn Conerly, a retiree and former principal who has returned several times to active duty, urged the board to find a way of keeping retirees like herself on the school system’s self-funded insurance plan.

“I’ve kept in the background and kept my mouth shut, but you know this ain’t fair,” Conerly said.

Some sacrifices may be necessary to keep the school system’s health insurance solvent, according to Carnell Washington, a retired teacher and president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers.

“That’s going to be hard for us, which ones of us are going to have to lose their arms or cut off their legs to save their body,” Washington said.

Active employees don’t want to hurt retirees, said Amber Boyd, principal of Southeast Middle School.

“We want to honor those of you who have retired, and we don’t want you to shoulder the brunt of all these cost increases,” Boyd said. “We follow in your footsteps. We are here today because of you.”

A consulting firm has projected the cost of employee medical coverage, both what the school system pays and what employees pay, will increase from a projected $85.3 million in 2013 to $92.1 million in 2014.

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