A switch in health insurance providers will save more than $800,000 for the Onalaska School District and its employees.

After considering bids from a number of providers, school officials dropped longtime carrier WEA Trust.

The school district will work with Gundersen Lutheran and Mayo-affiliated HMOs to offer a dual-choice program, the first of its kind in a school district.

Superintendent Fran Finco said the plans were a creative solution to the district’s budget woes.

“We have a finite number of dollars,” he said.

A consulting firm hired to help the district shop for new insurers said the HMOs made significant compromises to their typical proposals to make the deal.

School board members approved the change Monday at the board’s regular meeting. Teachers and school staff will be able to choose between the two local providers. Because employees pay for 20 percent of their coverage, the switch will save them between $300 and $700 a year, depending on the size of their plan, Finco said.

That accounts for a large chunk of the total savings. The rest — about $660,000 — goes to the district.

The district kept WEA Trust for dental, life and other forms of insurance.

District Finance Director Larry Dalton recommended spending more district money on employee wellness as a means to control medical insurance costs.

“Medical costs continue to rise, and we expect inflation in this over time,” Dalton said. “One solution to control this is to stay healthy.”

The new coverage will expand to cover same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partnerships that qualify. It is consistent with the employee handbook leave policy that was approved earlier by the board.

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