While not signing off on the idea, Madison School Board members Monday seemed willing to consider a new approach to fringe benefits in which employees would be required to start contributing to their health insurance premiums.

No vote was taken at the meeting, but comments and questions from board members suggested they are moving in that direction to help eliminate a budget gap. No board member outright rejected the idea.

“These are difficult times, and I think there’s not a person or adult or family that hasn’t had to make really tough decisions around health care,” said board member Mary Burke.

Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham and her staff brought several health insurance scenarios to the board. The options were structured differently, but all would require an employee share of some sort, most in the range of 2 percent to 4 percent.

The district’s overall health care costs are projected to increase 2.9 percent for the 2016-17 school year, or about $1.95 million. All of the scenarios would absorb that increase.

Currently, employees contribute a $20 co-pay per medical visit, and there are no deductibles. Only administrators contribute to their premiums now, at a rate of 10 percent of a plan’s cost.

Board member Dean Loumos said he’d like to see a scenario in which the percentage paid by administrators increases by another 2 percent or 3 percent, to take some of the burden off lower-paid employees.

“They’re already paying 10 percent,” board member Ed Hughes said of administrators.

“Yeah, so what?” responded Loumos.

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Burke brought a spreadsheet she’d created in which she compared the costs of the three HMOs that provide insurance plans for the district: Unity Health Insurance, Dean Health Plan, and Group Health Cooperative (GHC).

By setting up a system in which employees who choose a more expensive plan pay a greater percentage of their premiums, the district likely could save a considerable amount, she said.

“It gives an incentive for our employees to switch to that lower-cost plan,” she said.

Currently, that’s GHC, she said.

In the past, the district would have had to negotiate any changes in health insurance with Madison Teachers Inc., the union that represents district employees. That’s no longer the case following Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 signature piece of labor legislation, which significantly curtailed union bargaining rights.

District officials have been crafting the budget for several months, with feedback from the board to guide them. Cheatham is scheduled to present her formal budget proposal later this month, with a board vote in June.

Monday’s discussion involved only five of seven board members. TJ Mertz and Anna Moffit get their health care coverage through the district because their spouses are employees.

Both sat in the audience Monday and did not participate in the discussion. They have said they will recuse themselves from any votes related to health insurance.

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