By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Affordable Health Care Act changes positive for school district
Placeholder Image

If you think presidential elections don’t have local impact, you should have attended last week’s North Crawford School Board meeting. The meeting opened with a one-hour speakerphone call to TriCor’s Steve Hamilton, the school district’s insurer, to discuss how the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will affect the district and its employees.

“We’re going to see a lot of regulations in the next three to six months,” Hamilton told the board. The insurance agent carefully explained both what was already known about the Affordable Care Act and what was anticipated.

Hamilton acknowledged that many aspects of the new law could work to the advantage of the district. For instance, coverage would now be community-rated. That would create lower rates for places like rural Wisconsin.

Hamilton went on to explain that large employers (more than 50 full-time equivalent workers) were required to provide “adequate and affordable” coverage under the new law. He saw no problem for the district on either point, given coverage already offered and the parameters of what will be considered “adequate and affordable.”

A major change in the law is that the only factors that will be allowed for consideration of rates for a group are age, smoking status, geographic location and family size.

Smoking will become the only lifestyle factor that can be considered in creating rates and a 50 percent upcharge is allowed to any rate for smokers. Pre-existing conditions, obesity and a host of other risk factors cannot be considered in establishing rates under the Affordable Care Act.

“I think we will see a lot of smoking cessation effort,” Hamilton said.

Also the rates for ages will be narrowed under the new law. Now, the rate for a 64-year-old might be $600 and an 18-year-old might be $100, but under the new law the difference cannot be greater than three-to-one, according to Hamilton.

A challenge for insurance carriers will be to get the right mix of ages for rates, the insurance agent explained. If the group has lots of younger members the rates will be lower for the group and there will not be the money to cover paying for claims of the older end of the group. On the other hand, if a group has too many on the higher end there might be too many claims despite the increased revenue.

Hamilton explained that the affordable aspect of the new law would apply to people with incomes up to 400 percent more than the poverty level–that’s about $45,000 for a single and $88,000 for a family of four. Anyone under those amounts would be eligible to seek assistance in paying costs of premiums, deductibles or other out-of-pocket expenses from the health care exchanges, which will be set up under the new law.

Ironically, North Crawford may have a problem with the special Cadillac Plan Tax, which is set up to penalize heath insurance plans see as providing members with excessive benefits. The district’s problem could arise because of the current higher rates paid for insurance because of claims experience make it seem like a better plan than it is. Hamilton advised the problem could be addressed by cutting back on the amount of the district’s contribution. However, the insurance agent also noted that by the time that moment arrives rates and other things might be quite different than they are now.

“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Hamilton said with chuckle at one point.

North Crawford School District Administrator Dr. Dan Davies asked Hamilton how the establishment of the exchanges next fall would affect contracts written and signed with teachers during the summer. The insurance agent advised that contracts should be written with an eye to adapting them to the new law and advised the district to get legal help with the matter.

Effective July 1, 2013, the board’s selection of a policy will be working at being in compliance with the Affordable Care Act, Davies told the board.

“Our path is clear,” Bedessem agreed.

Hamilton agreed with that assessment citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the law and re-election of President Barack Obama in the just concluded election.

“It should be a positive for the district,” Hamilton said in assessing the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act on North Crawford. 

“It will make health insurance a lot easier,” Bedessem said.

As part of another agenda item, North Crawford Food Service Director Kay Teague updated the board on the school lunch program and reported on efforts to start a program to reduce hunger at home for some of the district’s students.

Initially, Teague and others were looking into starting what is known as a ‘backpack program,’ which sends non-perishable food items home with needy students on weekends. Teague had previously told the board during one of her reports that she and members of the food service staff see evidence of hunger problems in a certain percentage of students in the district.

The food service director told the board that in looking into the backpack program, she and others had become aware of an in-school food pantry option supported by the charitable Second Harvest.

Teague accompanied district secretary Angie Boland to the Rockford-Belvidere School District to observe a Second Harvest in-school food pantry in action. The pair was impressed by what they saw.

Teague told the board that in conversations with an official of Second Harvest she was told the organization would supply the needed food free of charge and would even pay to purchase or construct shelving needed for its storage.

“The only thing we would need to supply is the volunteers to run it and a locked area to keep the food in,” Teague told the board. She said that finding an area to store the food had presented a problem, as school maintenance director Harry Heisz had not been able to come up with an available room or closet suitable for storage.

Several board members made suggestions of rooms that might be converted to the use and it was agreed a search for suitable storage space would proceed.

The food service director told the board that she favored starting slowly and building the program over time. She proposed to start with an  in-school food pantry opportunity twice per month on a Thursday or Friday initially featuring non-perishable foods like peanut butter and jelly canned fruits and other items. She noted that Second Harvest was prepared to do more, including providing meat if that’s what the district wanted.

Teague told the board Second Harvest would allow the district “to make the program as big as we want or as small as we want.” She said that it was her idea to make it smaller in the beginning.

Board member Michael Bedessem questioned whether it could be done every Friday and Teague allowed that indeed it could be done weekly.

Teague said that in conversations with teachers it was determined that the National Honor Society students might take on volunteering in the food pantry project as a community service activity. Volunteers from the community might also be used.

Teague will continue to work on getting the project ready for the district.

The food service director also updated the board on some of the farm-to-school foods being used in the school lunches this year. A harvest of the month has featured roasted rutabaga one month and roasted beets this month. Roasted carrots will be featured in December.

A special meal of Salisbury steaks served with real mashed potatoes made a big impression on students recently, particularly high school students. Teague said the mashed potatoes supplied by a Viroqua-based provider was not inexpensive. The 144 pounds of potatoes produced 90 pounds of mashed potatoes peeled and prepped by the provider and were to cost the district $145, but the provider agreed to cut the bill in half at Teague’s request.

In the future, Teague hopes to get the potatoes with less prep from the provider and at a lower price and finish the mashing process in the school’s kitchen. She told the board that cooking more from scratch is very popular with the high school students and the lunch program is expanding their efforts.

 In other business, the North Crawford School:

• approved hiring three wrestling coaches for a program that has 15 high school participants and an unknown number at the junior high level

• agreed to a 2.3 percent increase in salary and benefits for technology coordinator Donna Starkey