School district, associations stuck on health care

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, support staff and teacher associations met again Jan. 13 to discuss the unresolved issue of health care for contract negotiations that began nearly one year ago.

Anchorage-based lawyer Saul Friedman, who represents the school district negotiating team, turned down the Kenai Peninsula Education and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support associations’ joint proposal from Oct. 14 as it stood, and made a counter offer.

The associations’ Oct. 14 proposal would drop the school district’s current traditional health care plan and only include a high deductible plan. The school district would pay 100 percent of the costs after the deductible, versus the 85 percent it is currently paying.

“The school district’s Wednesday (Jan. 13) counter is a high deductible plan which includes 100 percent of the monthly cost paid, but with a $1,500 cap on the per employee, per month plan cost,” said Pegge Erkeneff, school district spokesperson. “If an employee does utilize health care, the employee will pay a deductible until a maximum out of pocket is reached.”

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Matt Fischer said because there is no statement addressing who is responsible for covering anything above $1,500, the employee would then be covering 100 percent of the costs. It is also lower than what the school district is currently paying, which is a cap of $1,580 per month.

The associations’ proposal states the school district can “enjoy all savings benefited from reduced usage through a High Deductible Plan.”

Friedman said the proposal would increase annual costs by $1.1 million, which is why the school district would not accept the Oct. 14 offer.

He said he understands why the counter plan was proposed because it saves the school district’s employees significant money, but it doesn’t include equal returns for the school district.

After hearing Friedman’s response, the associations met to caucus and came back with a counter.

They offered the school district a cap on its per employee, per month plan cost of $1,700. The school district would pay 85 percent for anything above the per month cap.

The associations agreed to take the 100 percent coverage off the table.

Fischer said he fears the school district’s high deductible plan was not well researched “and has an unpredictable cost.”

“Employees are willing to try this model, but we are not willing to be the ones that pay an increase if they are wrong,” Fischer said. “If they believe the high deductible plan will equal savings, then they will have no problem accepting our counter proposal.”

Erkeneff said once the subject of health care is hammered out, the groups will re-address salaries and benefits.

Friedman said he would get back to the associations about their offer within the week.

Kelly Sullivan is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.