Montana School Districts Facing Premium Increases

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – More than 200 Montana school districts are facing steep increases in health insurance premiums because their self-insurance pool has lost 75 percent of its reserves over the past three years, the CEO said.

The Montana Unified School Trust covers 230 school districts and related organizations. Chief Executive Officer Bob Robinson said claims have outstripped projections by millions of dollars since mid-2007, and the trust faces a shortfall of up to $4 million by this summer.

“The bottom line is an increase in health care costs and a dramatic escalation of those in the last two years,” Robinson said Thursday.

MUST kept premium increases low from 2005-2008 because board members felt the trust’s financial reserves were healthy.

This year, premiums are expected to increase by an average of 39 percent for the 19,000 employees or dependents of employees at mostly small and mid-sized school districts. The Kalispell school district will see a 35 percent increase, Butte a 49 percent increase, while the average increases for some districts are as high as 74 percent.

The increases come as schools are looking at little or no boost in state funding due to the downturn in the economy.

“It’s just a terrible time for it to happen with everything else going on,” said Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Boards Association. “It just exacerbates the cuts that school districts will have to make over the coming years.”

In Nashua, employees with coverage for their entire family will see an increase from $534 a month to $978, or 83 percent. The school district pays $364 a month of the policy’s cost.

“We’re looking at other options,” said Nashua schools secretary Bobbi Skyverg.

Nashua isn’t the only district shopping around.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana is hearing from MUST members, company spokesman Tim Warner said Thursday. He said he’s directing them to the Montana Schools Health & Welfare Plan, which manages coverage for 55 school districts. The fund, which Blue Cross insures, raised its premiums by 11.9 percent this year.

“We anticipate some growth,” Warner said.

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