ECISD School Board officials say they hold out hope that most in the District will be pleased in the long run, following a controversial decision to change the way health insurance is handled among its staff.    

In the several weeks following Blue Cross Blue Shield being named the District's new third party administrator (TPA) on Nov. 10, school Board members say the issue is still a work in progress. This is despite mounting, yet silent criticism by staff who are left wondering if the change puts healthcare out of reach for more than 2,000 teachers, and at least 2,300 staff in the District.

Spokespersons for Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a statewide organization that includes more than 700 teachers in the Edinburg area, says there is a greater level of concern received as a result of the District's changing of health insurance providers.

The best option for teachers was 'why can't we keep what we have', according to AFT.

"Teachers were hoping what they (District) had previously was kept. It was pretty evident that the voice of teachers in the insurance committee was not adhered to, and it never has had the power to make serious considerations but rather has been something of a process," said Luis Tovar, AFT field representative, about the District's 50-member Insurance Committee comprised of staff from the various campuses and departments.

"Teachers get frustrated when they recommend something and it gets ignored. Their option was 'why can't we keep what we have'," Tovar said.

Apparently that was the original intent. District insurance consultant Linda Walker, along with an eight member Request for Proposal (RFP) Review Committee, first recommended to the Board that the District retain current TPA, Health First of Houston, in a tumultuous exchange between Board members on Nov. 10.

Walker had recommended that, given a student population of more than 31,000 and a District that grows at about 5 percent annually, a need for additional staff has brought about a necessary change to the District's medical plan. Employee growth combined with the steady rise in the cost of health care has surpassed the District's health plan reserves, according to Walker's recommendation to the Board.

Following an extended executive session, Blue Cross was approved by the school Board in a 5-2 vote. Health First's contract, which had served ECISD for the past eight years expires on Dec. 31.

"The impression that teachers were left with was there were other choices. A good indication of that was that the vote was split," Tovar said. "Because of the lack of unity on the Board, teachers are left thinking there was something better out there."

 ECISD will not receive BCBS insurance, the company will rather act as a "bookkeeper" according to District officials. The school district is its own insurance company through a "self funded" insurance program. As administrator for the district plan, Blue Cross will use District funds from premium deductions taken from paychecks to pay for claims incurred by all of the employees of ECISD. The District contributes $332.71 per employee based on a "three-tier" plan. Employees elect coverage for eligible dependents and are ultimately responsible for the cost.

As of the District's last Board meeting on Nov. 24, officials were still mulling over the contract with Blue Cross. The item was on the Board's executive agenda, but no decision was made at that time.

"It's going to be one of those ongoing works in progress," said School Board president Omar Palacios. "You will not see immediate savings but with this plan design we have now you are not going to get the constant increases we were getting with the past insurance. What you get is, hopefully according to the plan design, that you will paying for an extended period of time instead of having your rates go up by $20 or $25 every six months.

"What we are trying to do is stabilize those costs to see us through the long run. The initial costs are going to be higher but that was going to happen regardless of whatever insurance we went to," Palacios said.

Enrollment for ECISD employees for the medical plan is currently underway and will continue through Dec. 16. The District is currently utilizing on-line enrollment, and BCBS representatives are currently enrolling at schools. All ECISD staff participating in the Medical Plan will be issued Blue Cross insurance cards, and mailed out to employees over the Christmas holidays.

"This was something that, even if you plan well for it, I think what is happening is that because of the growth of the new schools that are coming up they are trying to shift the costs so they can afford to employ more people," Tovar said."They are doing what every family is doing, that is looking at their budget and saying 'we are not going to have cable for example or the Monitor and we are going to cut on costs' and every teacher is expected to pick that up."