SHIRLEY -- Facing a deficit and seeking ways to cut costs within a level-services budget, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin has been looking into the town's historically generous health insurance benefits and reported her findings to the selectmen Monday night.
"We can really make a huge savings" of as much as $146,081 annually via changes in policy that affect health benefit eligibility and the percentage split, among other things.
With health insurance costs projected to go up by eight percent in fiscal 2015, cost-saving options laid out in her report included changing the design plan and tightening the rules about who gets insurance coverage and how the percentage paid for premiums is split between the town and the employees, elected officials and on-call fire fighters eligible to sign up for coverage under the town's health insurance plan.
Any design plan changes would be covered under Mass General Law, Chapter 69, which state legislators passed in 2011.
"A lot of towns have moved in (this) direction," Garvin wrote in the report, which lists the particulars by which those changes can be made.
After meeting with the town's health insurance provider and the finance team, she advised the board to consider a "cafeteria-type plan" offered by the town's current provider, MIIA Health Benefit Trust.
Any proposed changes will be discussed with the unions and other town employees and she plans to meet with the Insurance Advisory Committee soon, Garvin said.
Besides "moving toward plan design," with a specific option targeted, the team recommended the following changes to the town's health insurance policy:
Full-time employees (20 hours a week or more) who sign up for insurance coverage would pay 25 percent of the premium for their plan, while the town picks up the other 75 percent.
The percentage split would be reversed for elected officials who opt in. They would pay 75 percent of the insurance premium while the town pays 25 percent.
Call firefighters covered under the town's insurance policy would no longer pay in via the 25/75 percent split. Although still eligible to participate, in future they would pay 100 percent of the cost.
Selectman David Swain favored the proposal as presented. "I have no issues at all," he said. "We definitely need to change the plan."
"I'm on board, too," Selectman Robert Prescott said. "It's been on my mind for some time." Besides the savings, the issue is about fairness, he said and he also favors reversing the percentage split for elected officials insured under the town's plan.
He asked if it's possible to write in a sunset clause that would allow firefighters and elected officials covered under the previous split to continue paying the smaller percentage until their terms are up, but closing the door to such arrangements in future.
Garvin said she thought it would be legal.
In that case, "the door closes today," Swain said.
Selectmen voted unanimously to accept the plan as presented, subject to Town Counsel's call on the phased-out percentage split.
"We probably didn't make a lot of friends with that decision." Chairwoman Kendra Dumont said, but the recommended adjustments will benefit the town and taxpayers.