Health benefits

Oshkosh School Board Approves Major Change to Health Benefits

By Miles Maguire

In addition to approving a mask mandate at its postponed meeting Monday, the school board voted to overhaul the employee health insurance program and increase the frequency of board self-assessments.

The new health insurance program, based on a self-financing approach, will come into effect on January 1.

Faced with planned double-digit annual rate increases for health insurance, Oshkosh officials hope to save money over time by moving away from current carrier Anthem Inc., part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

With self-funding, the school district will be responsible for covering most medical and pharmaceutical claims, rather than transferring that risk to an insurance company. The district will hire an outside company to handle claims and will purchase a limited insurance policy to handle extremely expensive situations.

Officials hope that the money saved can benefit employees in the form of higher pay, but they acknowledge that some will be disadvantaged by the new approach. The costs will not actually decrease with self-financing, they will simply increase at a slower rate.

With self-funding “there will be some staff who will have costs that will increase,” said Drew Niehans, executive director of business services. “There’s no getting around it.”

But he said district bargaining group leaders generally supported the change. The alternative, Niehans says, is double-digit annual cost increases for the foreseeable future and possibly “drastic plan design changes” for employees.

Board member Liz Szilagyi said she supports self-funding as a way to save money that can be used to “increase salaries for our employees.” Beth Wyman and Barbara Herzog voted in favor of the new approach, but only after warning about the importance of maintaining an attractive health insurance package for workers.

District officials believe that self-funding will not only slow spending growth, but also allow for greater flexibility in plan design.

Two of the school board members, Kristopher Karns and Bob Poeschl, said they could not vote due to conflicts of interest.

Without discussion, the board also voted to increase the frequency of its self-assessments. These exams will now take place in January and June, rather than just March.

In June, Board Chairman Bob Poeschl announced his intention to reconsider the current board and superintendent evaluation policies. At the time, he raised the possibility of increasing the frequency of superintendent evaluations to once per quarter.

But the board on Monday passed only technical changes to the superintendent’s evaluation process, specifically adding three references to state law.

Poeschl did not respond to a request for an explanation.

The mask mandate, which covers all indoor facilities in the district, will be in effect until October 1. It went 6-0.