Priority offers school districts health plan

May 13, 2011
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Priority Health has launched a new health care plan purposely targeted for cash-strapped school districts that are pursuing options to alleviate their budget woes and avert staff layoffs.

PriorityEDU could save districts an average of $2,000 per teacher annually, with one option locking in insurance premiums for three years, said Joan Budden, Priority Health’s chief marketing officer.

“We’re basing that three-year guarantee on our experience with other, e.g., larger, accounts,” said Budden. “So we know we can work with districts to improve their health care costs.”

The state’s ongoing budget quandary that has seen per-pupil funding drop has carved out a health care insurance alternative to the Michigan Education Association’s Michigan Education Special Services Association’s group insurance programs, Budden said.

“They do have their own program and we respect that, since it’s been in place for a very long time, and certainly they’ve had a lot to offer. But we believe any market is better with competition,” said Budden. “So perhaps we can help some schools. There’s plenty of room for good, honest competition in the school market.”

Spurring the field of competition is Michigan Public Act 106 that was signed into law October 2007, added Budden. The law requires Michigan school districts and other public employers to at least consider a variety of insurance options, she said.

PriorityEDU adds another chapter in the competitive field of health insurance for public employers. It will cover preventive health care services and provide access to a network that includes 95 percent of the providers in Michigan.

In the last two years, Priority Health has nearly doubled the number of school districts it serves to more than 60 across the state.

“We are able to provide significant cost savings because of our low overhead and proven track record of reducing unnecessary costs,” said Kimberly Horn, president and CEO of Priority Health. “We achieve some of the best scores in the nation for getting members in for their preventive services. This allows us to keep people healthy and to catch problems early before they turn into more serious and expensive health problems.”

PriorityEDU arrives at a time when statewide layoffs of teachers loom large. According to a recent survey by the Michigan School Business Officials that culled data from 300 of the state’s 540 districts, 4,000 additional layoffs statewide are projected.

The report adds:

  • Eight-five percent of school districts anticipate class sizes will increase due to staff cuts and school closings.

  • Eighty-three percent will freeze salaries and benefits for some or all employees.

  • Ninety-six percent of districts anticipate laying off staff or leaving vacant positions unfilled.

“They’re (school districts) faced with many budget challenges and, in addition, some budget restructuring that gives them additional challenges,” said Budden.

“School districts often look to reducing teachers and increasing size of classes. We tried to look at other costs so they can maintain more personnel in their classrooms and reduce health care costs.”

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