Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 20, 2014

New health plan OK'd for retired teachers

By Bill Kirk

---- — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Monday night to move more than 400 retired teachers and their dependents out of a state-backed health insurance plan and into a town plan.

But instead of implementing the change by July 1, as suggested by the town’s health insurance consultant, selectmen voted to delay implementation until Sept. 1 to give town staff more time to contact retirees and answer more questions about the switch.

The delay comes with a price: It may have cost the town as much as $50,000.

An initiative that has been in the works for years, the switch for retired teachers and their dependents out of the state’s Group Insurance Commission plan is expected to save $373,000 a year. By delaying it two months, those savings won’t start happening until September, prompting several selectmen to declare that the board wasn’t living up to its fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers.

“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars,” outgoing Selectman Mary Lyman said. “We owe the taxpayers every ounce of explanation on how we spend their money.”

Lyons added that the change had been in the works for years and was actually suggested by a committee made up of union representatives.

“They took time to research this and move it forward,” she said. “Nobody wants to make a change. This is years of research; it’s not something that happened overnight.”

But selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli said he was concerned that the change might hurt retirees and their families.

“I’m concerned ... it’s a question of time and the ability to communicate the overall impact on 400 people,” he said. “I have talked to at least a dozen people and I want to understand — folks at this stage of their lives have more dependency on health care than any stage of their life.”

He sought assurances from Human Resources Director Candace Hall that enough outreach and education had been done to cause the least amount of disruption possible.

Hall told selectmen that dozens of people had called, emailed or come into the office with questions about the new program. She said that of the 415 people currently on GIC, she was really concerned for only 12 of them whose insurance costs are expected to rise “significantly.”

She added that the switch is made more difficult because many retirees now live out of state.

“It’s a dispersed population,” she said. “We don’t know their health, their cognitive functioning. We just don’t know who they are. That’s the vulnerability of that population.”

“That’s the issue I’m concerned about,” Vispoli said.

Hall said she favored slowing down the process because “it gives us the opportunity to do education.”

Selectman Paul Salafia noted: “That’s a judgment call, but it’s going to cost us $40,000 or $50,000.”