BURLINGTON – Town officials recently presented the Board of Selectmen with a rundown of the proposed 2020 health insurance rates for current and retired town employees, which saw the members approve rate increases no higher than 3 percent across the board for active employees.

As was the case last year, Town Treasurer/Tax Collector Brian first declared “good news” to the Selectmen, affirming that town officials and the unions have been working together diligently throughout this year to make sure all parties are satisfied with the health insurance rates and plans. There are over 750 retirees and over 610 active employees on town insurance plan, totaling almost 1,500.

“The town is in the best financial condition it has ever been in all my years here,” declared Curtin, touching on the trust fund balance. “The performance in the last six years has improved drastically since [the Board of Selectmen] approved high-deductible plans seven years ago.”

The average increase in the last four years is just over 3.7 percent, and the town’s current budget for health insurance is roughly $13 million (10 percent of the town’s Operating Budget that was approved at Town Meeting last May). The trust fund at this time is a tad over $6 million and Curtin revealed that figure is over $400,000 in the black after the investments that were made four years ago.

He then expounded on the health care premiums for active and retired employees.

Active employees

The proposed rate increases for the two health insurance plans for active town employees is 3 percent. These plans entail Blue Care Elect, Blue Cross, and Harvard Pilgrim. These plans are for town employees under the age of 65 (individuals who are not eligible for Medicare).

“That is good news for us and good news for employees,” added Curtin. “We pay 70 percent of the premiums for active employees and employees pay 30 percent, so the 3 percent increase is relatively a smaller increase than what is happening nationally.”

Health insurance rates in communities throughout the country are anticipated to increase by at least 10 percent in 2020, so Burlington is certainly in a preferred situation at 3 percent.

“Over the last six years, we have had an average increase of 2.8 percent to 3.5 percent,” detailed Curtin. “Compared to other communities, [Burlington] works very well with our employees to address the contract situation and to attempt to address how they need healthcare, so it is not affecting rates as a whole. The 3 percent increase was recommended by union and management representatives.”

Curtin continued, “We are making decisions collaboratively between employees and management. While other communities have union groups fighting about every decision, we are making beneficial decisions that are most advantageous to the unions and the employees.”

The deductible formula for the independent plans is a $1,000 deductible, wherein the town pays the first $500. For family plans, it is $2,000 deductible and the town pays the first $1,000.

Plans for seniors (retirees)

Retired employees (seniors over 65) have five different plans to choose from, known as Medicare supplemental plans.

The health insurance plans for seniors are community rate increases, as the town is not self-funded in the retiree programs. The town is self-funded when it comes to active employees in the plan. The plans are Blue Cross Medics (up 2.2 percent), Blue Cross Seniors (up 3 percent; 170 of the seniors use this plan), Harvard Advanced (up 5.3 percent), Tufts Preferred (up 3.2 percent), and Tufts Preferred Supplement (up 3.2 percent).

“The rates are set by the health insurance companies and we have to pass them on to our retirees and the Medicare plans for those over 65,” stated Curtin. “But it is just the result of what the federal government is doing with funding. The rates are set regionally by claims experiences in the last 12 months.”

Comments

A positive trend looks to continue as a decrease in employee claims happened again, which is a result of the Selectmen voting for a high-deductible plan six years ago. A primary objective is to try to reduce drug claims.

The town has also been vigilant in promoting wellness education for employees, including no smoking and diabetes education programs to help guide employees in the right direction in terms of good health.

“We have been successful with these wellness education programs because claims have gone down in recent years,” Town Administrator Paul Sagarino told the Selectmen. “Health insurance is usually a budget buster for communities. Thankfully, we have very amenable town employee representatives who work collaboratively with us. Everyone realizes we have an excellent plan, but they also realize it is very costly plan for the taxpayers, so everyone tries to make it as cheap as possible.”

The Selectmen were generally pleased with rates for active employees.

“I want to thank all the parties involved for putting all the time in to get these rates,” Selectman Chair Joseph Morandi commended. “It does not happen overnight. This will continue to be great for the town.”

Selectman Michael Runyan, added, “The town and staff have done very well keeping the increase at 3 percent, while other communities are bracing for a double-digit increase. We live in a great town.”

Curtin formally requested a vote from the Selectmen to authorize the health insurance rates for 2020, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The percentage increase will be deducted out of each paycheck one month in advance to pay for the premiums.

By a 4-0 vote, the Selectmen approved the proposed 2018 health insurance rates for active and retired town employees. Selectman Bob Hogan was absent from the meeting.

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