The Public Eye: Twin Rivers employees to get a break on health insurance for 7 months

The Twin Rivers Unified School District gave its entire staff an early Christmas present last week – $100 a month toward their insurance premiums for the next seven months.

The school board voted unanimously Monday to help offset the cost of insurance for its employees at the recommendation of Superintendent Steven Martinez. The move will cost Twin Rivers Unified $1.2 million, according to district officials.

The district already pays a share of each person’s monthly premium – between $458 and $1,113 – depending on the employees’ bargaining unit, health care plan and the number of people in their families, said Kimbely Barnett, interim associate superintendent of business services.

The extra district contribution comes as employees are bracing for a January health insurance increase. The new rates would bring the employee share of insurance premiums to between $151 for the least expensive employee-only policy to $1,100 a month for the most expensive policy.

By contrast, employees in the San Juan Unified School District aren’t required to pay an insurance premium for individual insurance, although they pay up to $324 for a plan that covers their families. Employees in Elk Grove Unified pay between $76 and $394 a month, depending on the number of people covered and the policy. Both school districts hire outside brokers to bid on medical premiums for their districts.

Twin Rivers Unified, which has its health care plans administered through CalPERS, has had “a huge increase” in the cost of its insurance plans since 2009 – 23 percent to 41 percent depending on the plan, Barnett said. A cap set on district contributions in 2008 means that the district’s employees have borne the entire brunt of the recent increases, she said. “It’s pretty unreal now with the premiums and what it is costing,” Barnett said.

District officials chose not to wait until negotiations with unions begin in January to offer the insurance relief to employees. “It has been a matter of concern for the last four years,” Barnett said. “It is a one-time assistance to help offset the rising cost of insurance.”

Teachers union President Kristin Finney said that employees are “very happy” about the contribution. “The majority are very appreciative that they used the money they had like that.”

Attendance and behavior specialist Jaime Sanchez called the superintendent to thank him. “Some people may say it’s not enough, but any kind of amount is a token he is trying to do the right thing,” Sanchez said. “I’m grateful.”

Sanchez said his insurance premium would have gone up by $130 in January without the extra district contribution. Now he has to pay only an additional $30 a month for insurance. He knows co-workers, however, who are facing much higher increases. He said he is hoping that the district will find a way to decrease employee costs by June, when the $100 contribution expires.

Martinez first told employees about the district’s plan to pay more of their premium in a memo that said the district “is in a position to help alleviate some of the burden.”

The superintendent also told employees that the district is looking for ways to reduce the cost of health care. Barnett said that would likely take the form of a self-administered health care plan beginning in 2015. Currently, Twin Rivers employees have the choice of six health care plans administered through CalPERS that, as of January, will have a shared employee and district cost of between $681 and $2,185 a month depending on the plan and the number of people in the family.

“By doing our self-administration, we can pick our own plans,” Barnett said.