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Manchester city workers paying more than school workers for health coverage

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 24. 2013 11:50PM

MANCHESTER — Health insurance expenses for the deficit-plagued Manchester School District, whose largest union balked at paying more for health coverage, fell just three-tenths of 1 percent in the year ending June 30, according to a recently released report.

In contrast, health insurance costs dropped 12 percent for city departments, where several unions agreed to pay more for health insurance.

The city and school insurance plans each covered fewer employees. There were 4.9 percent fewer school workers covered compared to the previous year and 4 percent fewer covered employees in city departments.

Manchester’s city government and school district are self-insured for most health care claims. Anthem Blue Cross of New Hampshire is paid a fee to administer the city and school health insurance programs.

Anthem recently released reports detailing city and school health care costs for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“If we’re showing 12 percent (cuts) on the city side, I don’t know why that reduction could not be the same on the school side,” Mayor Ted Gatsas said. “Our employees are contributing more and our numbers are reflecting those changes.”

In 2012-13, the city saved $2.4 million on health care costs compared to the previous year.

If the school district had also cut its health coverage cost by 12 percent, it would have saved $3.3 million.

The school district is scrambling to plug a $1.6 million budget deficit blamed on the reduction in the number of tuition-paying high school students in the district.

Teachers have been reluctant to pay more for their health coverage without getting something in return.

Ben Dick, president of the Manchester Education Association, the teachers union, said teachers paid more for health coverage in the past than members of other city unions.

Over the past 18 months, however, city-side unions agreed to pay higher deductibles, co-payments and fees, while teachers rejected a tentative deal that would have seen them paying more.

Concessions by city employees means they pay about 6.5 percent of the cost. Before they took the deal that raised their health care costs, the city union members paid 3.5 percent of the cost.

School employees currently pay about 3.4 percent of the cost of their health coverage.

Negotiations on a new teachers union contract are on-going, with the school committee pressing for union members to pay more.

Dick said teachers are reluctant to agree to the health insurance concessions, partly due to concerns that the school district’s wage proposals would limit pay hikes for teachers at the top of the wage scale to less than 1 percent.

“We recognize that the money is limited,” he said.

The Board of School Committee is expected to receive an update on the progress of negotiations next week.

“Somebody needs to sit down and put something on paper that makes sense for both sides,” Gatsas said. “If people come forward with an agreement and both sides are unhappy, you have a pretty good deal.”

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