EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 16, 2014

Retired teachers oppose health insurance switch

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — Town officials are considering a switch in health insurance that has some retired teachers concerned about their future coverage and costs.

If approved, the town’s retired teachers would move from their current insurance provided by the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC) to the town’s own health care coverage.

The proposal, which would affect 415 retired teachers and those covered with them, could save the town as much as $373,000 a year, town health insurance consultant Ken Lombardi said.

But some retirees now covered by the GIC fear what could happen if they are moved to the town’s coverage.

“To tell you the truth, I can’t sleep after this was announced,” Pat Malone, whose husband is a retired Doherty Middle School teacher, said. “I’m just shocked that the town would pull GIC from us.”

Central to the discussion is what would happen to the retirees’ coverage if they were moved to GIC, along with the benefits of one insurance carrier over the other. That discussion includes what is and isn’t covered, the availability of certain doctors and more.

“The issue here is that there’s a financial impact that would benefit the town and benefit the members, but it’s all based on the retiree’s plan choice selection,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi’s presentation ran alongside data of what the 415 members pay in benefits today, and what they’d pay if rolled into the town’s coverage. For those living within a certain region — Massachusetts for Medicare enrollees, and New England for non-Medicare enrollees — staying in-network would cost less, and going out of network would cost much more.

For those living outside of the respective regions, going out of network would be the only option, and they would be billed the same as they are today, according to Lombardi.

“This is a huge, huge change in our life,” Pat Malone said. “We have premiums that cost us $120 for two of us. If we go Blue Cross Blue Shield, it goes to a couple hundred for two of us. Big increase — 60 percent increase. I think that’s quite a bit when you’re on a $35,000 pension, which is about what my husband is on.”

The Board of Selectmen is scheduled to discuss the proposal and potentially vote on the change at their meeting tomorrow night, according to Chairman Alex Vispoli.

“We want to thank everyone who has written to us, emailed us and called us,” he said. “The board is taking this decision very seriously and is looking at this completely.”