EDWARDSVILLE — Wilkes-Barre Area School District teacher union president Jeff Ney said little at Wednesday’s meeting of the Northeast Pennsylvania School District Health Trust board of trustees, but he effectively ended up accusing the trust administration of providing “misinformation” to his union regarding teacher health coverage.
Ney sat silently until near the end of the meeting when he asked for, and was granted, an executive session that pushed the 1 p.m. meeting well past 3 p.m.
When the board reconvened a motion was made to require the trust, a consortium of area districts and education agencies, to “assume the cost of misinformation” given to the Wilkes-Barre Area teacher union regarding prescription coverage changes the union had accepted under a new contract approved last September.
Brief discussion followed during which one trustee asked the cost to the trust if the motion was approved. Consulting actuary Jonathan Sapochak, from Conrad Siegel Actuaries, estimated it would run between $250,000 and $350,000 annually through the life of the new contract, which expires in the summer of 2017.
The motion was rejected, with the lone yes vote coming from Wilkes-Barre Area labor representative Lou Bartolini. The trust board is made up of representatives from labor and management. At least six people abstained, including Wilkes-Barre Area management representative Leonard Przywara, the district’s business manager, and the labor co-chair Phil Russo.
Ney said after the meeting that he couldn’t comment. Russo said the problem stemmed from a change the trust had made in prescription coverage. Previously, if a person had the option to get a generic or name brand drug, Russo said, the trust would pay the price of the generic with the patient paying the difference. Under new rules, the trust pays nothing if a patient opts for a brand name when a generic is available.
Prior to Ney’s executive session, the board had voted on a range of changes that will kick in when the new fiscal year begins July 1.
• Approved a budget that increases insurance premiums for member districts. The increases for each district are 3.7 percent for Hanover Area, 4.3 percent for the Luzerne Intermediate Unit, 5.8 percent for Greater Nanticoke Area, 5.5 percent for Northwest Area, 4.5 percent for Tunkhannock Area, 3.6 percent for West Side Career and Technical Center, 8.4 percent for Wilkes-Barre Area, 5.4 percent for Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center, 4.1 percent for Wyoming Area, 6.2 percent for Wyoming Valley West.
• Agreed to offer insurance coverage for same-sex couples, though it will be up to each district to decide whether to provide such coverage. Trust Attorney Cynthia Vullo said she felt the trust would be at “substantial risk” of a lawsuit if the coverage is not offered in the wake of recent federal court rulings, and that “I can’t say you won’t lose.”
• The board adopted a new rule tightening requirements from districts that contemplate leaving the trust, which can only be done July 1. The existing rule requires a district to give one-year notice of intent to withdraw, but no additional requirement for final notification. Co-chairman Phil Russo noted that seven districts submitted letters of intent to leave the trust last June but as of Wednesday only three had told the trust their final decision was to stay. The new rule requires districts to notify the trust of “final intent” by May 15.
• Co-chairman Ronald Grevera, the Superintendent at Northwest Area School District, told the board that the trust was recently approached by a Pittston Area School Board member seeking information on rejoining the trust. Pittston Area and Dallas School District withdrew in 2007, believing they could save money. Dallas has, but Pittston Area has not fared as well. Russo said Pittston Area is “exploring it’s options” and wanted to see if rejoining the trust would save the district money.