ST. GEORGE – Rising health care costs have hit the Washington County School District, the county’s largest employer, and as a result, over 3,000 school district employees will have to pay for a traditional health insurance plan out of their own pockets.
This is the first time that the employees will be required to pay for health insurance, said David Stirland, Washington County School Board of Education president.
“As far as I know, (employee health insurance) has always been district-funded,” Stirland said.
While the district will also offer a high-deductible option with no premium, insurance costs have risen so much that employees wanting a conventional policy will now have to contribute part of the premium.
A large increase in the cost of health care policies to the district is triggering the change.
Rising costs were caused mostly by a 30 percent increase in employee utilization of health care over the previous year, human resources director Lyle Cox told the school board at a regular meeting Tuesday. The district only budgeted for an increase of 3 percent, Cox said.
The increased utilization by employees can be largely attributed to an increase in the cost of prescription medications.
“We’ve found that some of these prescriptions literally are costing thousands of dollars per month,” Cox said.
“They are very unique medications that individuals require and certainly that’s the purpose of health insurance; it’s just that no one anticipated the costs associated with them.”
Even some older, traditional medications are increasing at an inflationary rate, Cox said.
“It’s just the crazy way the industry is right now.”
Approximately $3 million would be required to avoid charging employees for health insurance.
The board is “saddened” by the move and is still looking for ways to fund the increase besides charging employees for insurance, Stirland said.
During discussion on the issue, several board members, including Laura Hesson, objected to the plan.
“This is a huge shift in how we do things here in Washington County,” she said.
“We’re not giving the teachers a raise, but yet we’re asking them to contribute to a health care plan. It’s sort of the one thing that we do in Washington County that sets us apart from the rest of the state.”
“Health care is a big deal,” Hesson added, and asked that the committee go back and look at the issue again.
But with insurance renewal deadlines fast approaching, the board passed the measure with the caveat that the district keeps trying to find the needed $3 million “somewhere.”
The Utah Legislature is the board’s best hope for finding more funding for health care policies, Stirland said after the meeting.
Under the plan approved by the school board Tuesday, district employees will be offered two options. The first is a high-deductible policy with access to a health savings account at no cost to the employee.
The second is a more traditional policy that will cost $47 per month for an individual, $111 for two people and $158 for a family.
The district plans to revitalize the existing wellness program and try to find other ways to reduce insurance utilization, Cox said.
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