Wood County Schools looks at dental insurance

Plan costs hundreds of thousands more than allotted

Photo by Michael Erb Wood County Board of Education President Rick Olcott comments following a presentation on Wood County Schools’ dental program, which provides coverage for both current employees and retirees. Increasing enrollment among retirees coupled with increasing costs has led to the district paying a half-million dollars annually above the $1 million allocated for the benefit.

PARKERSBURG — Officials say dental insurance for current and former Wood County Schools employees costs hundreds of thousands of dollars more than its allotted funding.

A presentation Tuesday to the Wood County Board of Education showed a steady increase of retired employees enrolling in the program even as costs for all policies have risen over the years, costs which have largely been absorbed by the school system

The dental insurance benefit annually costs $1.5 million, part of which is paid for through Wood County Schools’ continuing levy. This past fiscal year, the school system spent an additional $700,000 to help pay for the benefit, as the school levy included only $800,000 for dental insurance.

When the levy was put up for renewal in November, the allotment for dental insurance was increased to $1 million and was approved by Wood County voters. Even so, Superintendent Will Hosaflook and other officials say that still means Wood County Schools will spend a half-million dollars in unrestricted funds, those not earmarked for classrooms or specific programs, to pay for the insurance. That levy allotment will remain in place for five years.

The plan has no monthly premium for professional single and family plans, a $13.06-a-month premium for service personnel, a $20-a month- premium for single retirees and a $45-a-month premium for retiree family plans.

However, the Wood County Schools plan also carries a $100 lifetime deductible, meaning after the first $100 is paid, the employee owes nothing.

“Not annual. Lifetime,” Hosaflook said.

Hosaflook said there also is no enrollment period, meaning employees can pick up, or drop, the insurance at any time.

“So you have people who enroll for a month, get the work they need done, and then drop the insurance,” he said.

In researching dental insurance options, Hosaflook said he has looked at what other counties offer to employees. In most cases there are no monthly premiums, but rates for retirees are higher.

“There also are certain caps in place, so once you hit that cap (in cost of treatment), you start paying more,” he said.

Hosaflook said when compared to other insurance providers, Wood County Schools has one of the best dental plans in the state.

Two other issues face the school system: The cost of dental care has increased during the past several years, as has the number of retirees.

In 2018, 1,003 professional employees were enrolled monthly in the insurance program, down slightly from 1,060 in 2014. Service personnel monthly enrollment remained relatively stead at 498 in 2018, up only one from enrollment in 2014.

Retiree enrollment, however, increased significantly, up from 646 in 2014 to 837 last year. Officials say the cost of dental work for retirees also was higher, because people often need more dental care and procedures as they age.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board President Rick Olcott said if the enrollment rate of retirees continues, the number of retired employees participating eventually will be higher that the number of people Wood County Schools currently employs.

“That’s kind of terrifying,” Olcott said.

Hosaflook said Thursday he expects that will happen within the next five years. The school system already must list the dental plan as an unfunded liability which potentially could cost the school system millions of dollars.

“We had to list it as a liability in a recent audit. Right now our dental liability is $23 million because there is no funding to cover that,” he said.

Addressing the dental insurance also presents a unique obstacle for the Wood County Board of Education. Board members Ron Tice and Rick Tennant are retired Wood County Schools teachers, and Olcott said Wednesday he receives dental insurance benefits through his wife, who is a teacher at Parkersburg South High School.

“It is important to know that I can separate business of the school system from personal life, as demonstrated by Superintendent Hosaflook and I putting the dental review on the agenda and into the public domain,” Olcott said Wednesday. “It is correct that three of the five board members could be impacted by any decisions, and if all recused could not have a majority to make a decision. Superintendent Hosaflook and I recognize that.”

Both Olcott and Hosaflook say they plan to call a public forum later this month to receive input from employees and retirees on how to best handle the dental insurance. Hosaflook said Thursday the idea is not to do away with the plan, but to find a way to make it fit within the $1 million allotted for the benefit.

“This is not my decision or the board’s. We want to reach out to our professional and service personnel and retirees to find a way to have this insurance,” Hosaflook said.

“Premium-free, deductible-free forms of insurance are nearly unheard of anymore,” Olcott said. “It is a great benefit for many employees and their families, but does place stress on funding mechanisms as the employee and retiree base increases, coupled with rising dental health care costs.”