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More Fiction Than Fact In The Teachers Union Almanac?

Teachers Made Several Allegations In Their Reasons To Reject A Wage Freeze. Patch Investigated, And Some Appear To Be Inaccurate.

The teachers union recently , arguing health care expenses are what really need to be fixed. In both an interview with Union President Martha Shoemaker and a press release, many allegations were made about health care and the administration. Patch investigated these allegations and found some of them to be inaccurate.

First Allegation: Waterford needs to rethink its self-insurance model; a standard health care package is better.

Answer: The self-insurance model is far cheaper, and has saved millions of dollars over the past 10 years .

Explanation: Finance Director Rudie Beers and her staff constantly analyze the cost of health care, Beers said. Nearly every year, the town asks Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield to compare Waterford’s current self-insured plan with a standard health care package. Heading into 2011-12, a standard package would cost the town $13.85 million, while the self-insured plan will cost the town $11.68 million, a savings of $2.16 million, according to Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s estimations.

If the town were to go out to bid tomorrow for a standard package, there is a chance a health insurance company would bid low for the first year, Beers said. This is common practice among health insurance companies, she said. However, once a contract is signed, rates rise dramatically and cost the town far more in the long run, she said.

Second Allegation: The cost of health care is so high because the town has a poor system, or is mismanaging the system.

Answer: Incorrect, according to budget documents. Costs have gone up because claims have gone up.

Explanation: For whatever reason, in the past few years, many town employees have filed very expensive claims, First Selectman Dan Steward said. Perhaps it is because the town has an aging population, or it is due to more accidents, but there is no single explanation, Steward said. The bottom line is when both the number and severity of claims go up, health insurance goes up, he said. The town is obligated to pay these costs, he said.

“It is no single person’s fault that health care costs have gone up,” Beers said. “People have gotten sick, and we need to pay for it. That is not the fault of the first selectman, or the school superintendent, or the finance director or the teachers union.”

Looking at budget numbers, Waterford employees had $10.13 million in claims in 2010. In 2009, that number was only $8.65 million, in 2008 it was $7.89 million and in 2007 it was $7.23 million. Before, those numbers were much more flat.

Claims are more expensive now because the cost of health care across the board has gone up, Beers said. That said, the town has had more severe claims more often, she said.

“The cost of health care has gone up because the use has gone up,” Beers said.

Cost could go down from some minor adjustments, such as a wellness program, Superintendent Jerome Belair said. However the only way to have a real impact on costs would be through “labor negotiations,” Steward said.

The union has not been asked for concessions on their health care plan.

Third Allegation: The administration has not given the teachers union all the information, particularly on the health care reserve account.

Answer: “Emphatically not true,” Assistant Superintendent Craig Powers said.

Explanation: All town budget and financial information is public information, including all information on health care costs. For example, Patch acquired all the information about all town health care costs immediately from Beers. Also, an audit is done each year on all town finances, including health insurance, and that audit is made public and advertised via a legal notice. It is available both online and in town hall. Waterford has won several awards for the excellence of these audits.

Along those lines, Belair, Powers and Beers have all said they have answered every single question ever asked by the teachers union. The teachers union submitted a list of 50 questions in January on these issues; Belair, Powers and former superintendent Randall Collins answered all 50 questions.

Beers, meanwhile, has said no teacher has asked her a single question about health insurance (or anything for that matter) the entire fiscal year. The union has said it asks only the administration questions, although Beers said her door is open.

Fourth Allegation: The town has done little to address the health care issue.

Explanation: A gray area, although the town does address this issue daily, according to Beers.

Answer: The teachers union agreed to two furlough days last year. Part of that agreement was the administration would find a way to fix the health care issue.

Since then, the administration created a group to look at reducing health care costs. The group has met only three times in a year.

The teachers union asked this question to the administration earlier in the year. The administration told the union this group was looking into long-term savings, and would not affect this year.

The teachers union has also asked for all union presidents to be allowed to go to these meetings. The meetings are public, are announced weeks ahead of time and are open to all, Powers said. Nobody has ever stopped a union president from attending a meeting, he said. Prohibiting someone from attending a public meeting is also a violation of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act.

Meanwhile, Beers was livid over this explanation. The finance department, a paid group of professionals trained to look at cost savings, looks at this issue daily, Beers said. The group is constantly looking at different ways to save money, she said.

Over the course of the fiscal year, the teachers union has not once asked the finance department what it is doing to save money on health care, Beers said. For it to say the town is doing nothing is just wrong, Beers said.

“I would not say the teachers aren’t doing something; because I don’t know what they do,” she said. “Why would they say we are not doing something, when they don’t know what we do?”

Water Ford March 17, 2011 at 02:08 PM
Why are we casting stones at each other? This is not about job performance, skills, or personal wealth. It’s all about budgets. Each department is given a budget and it will need to adhere to their budget in the best way they see possible…. furlough days, pay freezes, layoffs, reductions of hours, outsourcing, pay reductions, job consolidations, benefit changes, contract concessions, etc.. When times are tough managers need to make tough decisions. Please stop making personal attacks about someone’s profession. Town officials, union officials, and employees need to work together to reduce costs… cuts are not easy, but they are necessary.
Paul Petrone April 13, 2011 at 12:46 AM
I know this is long overdue, but I promised I would look into some of Candy Rollins claims. Here is what I found. First off, Rollins alleges that Beers made a $500,000 accounting error. This is not true. Beers, along with the rest of the town, budgeted $500,00 less for medical claims than what came in. So it was a budgeting error, not some accounting error. However, really looking at it, it is hard to blame anybody for it. The claims came in way higher in 2010 than what was happening before. Trying to guess trends in medical claims, aka trying to predict how many people will get sick and how sick they will get sick, is nearly impossible. And Beers put the number at a conservatively high figure, but the claims still exceeded the total. It is hard to blame the town for not knowing the exact amount of claims, it is nearly impossible. The end result is that this years budget makes up the $500,000 in costs. So it is just paying last years total this year. It is not as if the claims were not paid because the town didn't have money. The health care account, as Rollins said, was spent again because of all the claims. The account is used when claims exceed a certain amount (called a risk matrix), and the claims exceeded the amount. The town had to spend that money back to get the matrix refilled.
Paul Petrone April 13, 2011 at 12:50 AM
Continuing, the third point, where Rollins suggested many plans instead of one, is not really a good one. Insurance companies give better deals to entities the larger they are, Beers said. It is much like how bigger stores can get better deals on products than little stores, because they buy in bulk. And finally, Rollins was correct, Patch confirmed that Powers would have taken the superintendent's job for $170,000. As you know, Belair was paid what Randy Collins was paid, roughly $200,000.
Jean April 13, 2011 at 01:58 AM
It's hard to budget when health care costs are an unconstrained variable. Do you have any details on the town health plan (co-pays, deductibles, etc)?
Paul Petrone April 13, 2011 at 02:19 AM
They vary in each contract. Some are as low as $5 (some of the lower paid employees), the teachers actually pay on the higher end for co-pays. They also pay the most into their health insurance.

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