Health insurance costs soar for Aspen schools |

Health insurance costs soar for Aspen schools

ASPEN – The quest for affordable health care coverage is more than an academic debate for the teachers and other employees of the Aspen School District.

The school district’s share of its employees’ health insurance premiums soared 15 percent this year, according to Kate Fuentes, the district’s chief financial officer.

Some employees saw their premium prices spike by up to 40 percent.

“It’s hefty,” said Superintendent Diana Sirko about the price hike facing some employees. “Obviously they’re not excited about it.”

The school district’s carrier adjusted prices after the amount paid out in claims in 2008 exceeded the amount collected in premiums. The carrier anticipates claims will exceed premiums again in 2009, once all claims are processed.

Given that history, the carrier adjusted prices for 2010, “which makes perfect business sense, from their perspective,” Fuentes said.

But from the perspective of the district and its employees, the price hikes are less than perfect.

The school district will pay $270,000 this year as its share of premium expenses.

District employees who are buying coverage for their spouse and dependent children are getting hit the hardest. Their costs went up as much as $150 per month.

The district helps employees pay for their own insurance coverage but it doesn’t subsidize coverage for spouses and dependents. Premiums for family coverage cost $1,800 to $2,000 per month, depending on the plan option selected, Fuentes said. Of that amount, employees must cover $1,100 to $1,300. That’s as much as $15,600 annually in costs for employees.

Employees who only have health insurance coverage for themselves pay nothing if they go with a plan with a high annual deductible. They pay $45 per month, or 6 percent of the premium, for the other available option, Fuentes said. The district picks up the 94 percent of the premium price for its employees using that option.

Sirko said the district shopped around for coverage and found all carriers would charge about the same.

About 190 out of 235 employees purchase some type of health care coverage through the district, Fuentes said. The majority of them get coverage only for themselves. Employees with families are relying on the spouse’s insurance to cover the spouse and kids, she said.

Sirko said young, healthy families have viable options. But for some employees, the changes this year meant they had to go with higher deductibles, higher premiums or, in some cases, both – “something not easy to swallow,” she said.

“It’s a perfect example of the debate we’re having in the country over health care,” Sirko said.

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