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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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Officials quiz consultants on ways to insure against future health-costs deficit

Published 7:39 am, Thursday, January 30, 2014

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  • Emily Swift and Robert Pernicka of The Segal Group, the Board of Education's insurance consultant, attending the special meeting of the board Wednesday at Staples High School. Photo: Anne M. Amato / Westport News
    Emily Swift and Robert Pernicka of The Segal Group, the Board of Education's insurance consultant, attending the special meeting of the board Wednesday at Staples High School. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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Representatives of the Segal Group, the Board of Education's insurance consultants, were on hand Wednesday night to present their projections for the school system's health insurance costs for the 2014-15 budget -- an account with a nearly $2 million deficit in the current budget.

That shortfall prompted a series of questions from officials, who are still grappling with fallout from the unexpected hole in this year's spending package and how to avoid similar problems in the future.

Board of Finance member Tom Lasersohn asked the consultants if there were ways to find out about large health insurance claims sooner. He also wanted to know about lifetime limits on claims.

The board's Health Insurance Fund Review Committee, an ad hoc committee looking into the cause of the deficit, revealed some key finding of its probe earlier this week.

An intentional draw down of the budget's health insurance reserves and a sharp increase in medical claims during 2012-13 -- as well as an additional increase projected in claims for 2013-14 -- were the "key drivers of the shortfall," according to information supplied to the group.

"The first red flag was depleting assets below liabilities," Board of Education member Paul Block said Wednesday night. Block, who also is a member of the ad hoc committee, was not a school board member when it approved the budget last year.

"We should all agree it was planned and we just have to repair it," said Block. The committee needs "a couple more weeks and I think we can come back with good methodology" for preventing a shortfall in the future, he added.

"Is there any way to get information on claims that's building and not billed yet," Charles Haberstroh, a former selectman who serves on the ad hoc committee, asked Segal representatives Bob Pernicka and Emily Swift. He said if the school board had known about the high claims in advance, "other actions could have been taken."

He asked if there is any way to get an "early warning" of impending problems. Pernicka said there is no guarantee that even having that information would be helpful. He said there may be indications that someone covered by the health plan needs a lung transplant, but there is uncertainty if it will happen.

Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon asked how the town projects expenses for its health insurance budget, saying that could perhaps be a model for the school district.

As for the consultant group's projections for 2014-15 health insurance costs, Pernicka said a 5 percent margin is recommended to protect against claims fluctuations, something the board had been recommended to do for the 2013-14 budget, but failed to do -- and now faces the consequences.

Figures provided by the consultants show currently projected health insurance costs for 2014 are $15,021,500, and for 2015 the current projection is $15,628,900.