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Uncertainties abound for ailing Teachers Health Trust

The Clark County School Board and its teachers, for the first time in several months, appear to have found some common ground.

Despite their ongoing dispute over pay raises, the teachers and trustees last week seemed united in their skepticism of — and at times outright hostility toward — the teachers union's plan to overhaul its crumbling Teachers Health Trust.

Union leaders argue the board within the next few weeks must approve a new health care package — the details of which remain murky — to save the union-controlled trust from a deficit projected to balloon to $15.4 million this year and to more than $20.6 million next year.

More than 18,000 teachers and their dependents rely on the trust for their health care, and many members reported their doctors already have sent notices warning that they will not participate in the new plan.

"The Teachers Health Trust as we know it is gone," said Sarah Sunnasy, a fifth-grade teacher at Ronzone Elementary School, near Lake Mead Boulevard and Michael Way. "It's time that we as teachers all swallow that pill.

"I think there's a lot of great things in this (new) proposal. I really do. I like the concept," she added. "But I'm concerned (about) what happens after three years. We don't know if it's going to be another debacle."

At a school board meeting Thursday, the Clark County Education Association, which represents the teachers, unveiled what little information it had about the controversial proposal to overturn control of the trust to locally based health care delivery firm WellHealth and a third-party administrator.

The plan would decrease from 5.800 health care providers currently operating with the trust to about 5,200, according to WellHealth representatives. Deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums and co-pays largely would remain the same, or even get cheaper, provided members seek services within the WellHealth network.

But WellHealth representatives also struggled to answer basic questions from trustees, including how much premiums will rise and where it will find cost savings to prevent the trust's implosion.

Those details, said Steven Keltie, president of business, development and marketing for WellHealth, depend on how much money the Clark County School District provides to keep the trust afloat.

Under one option provided to the board, the district's contribution for each member's monthly premium would rise by $24.24, at a cost of about $900,000 a month or nearly $11 million a year. Another option would require plan changes for members, or a mix of both. Changes to district funding for teacher health costs are subject to ongoing contract negotiations with the union.

WellHealth representatives insisted any of those options would allow the trust to eliminate its deficit within three years, but trustees remained cautious about approving such a vague plan.

"It feels like we're in a Catch-22," said District G Trustee Erin Cranor. "If we approve the plan design and the network and we don't know the money side — unless the district subsidizes (the trust) at $900,000 a month, the plan design gets redesigned.

"So we will have approved a plan design, but then we'll have to redesign the plan."

The board took no action Thursday, but if it eventually approves the union's proposal, all contracts currently issued through the trust will roll over to WellHealth on Jan. 1, with open enrollment starting Oct. 17.

Contact Neal Morton at nmorton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @nealtmorton

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