Employees Reject Proposed Insurance Change

by Doug McClure

WOLCOTT – At the December select board meeting, the Wolcott Select Board announced it had determined the Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s (BC/BS) rate hike was itself not substantial but using that insurer would cost as much as $11,000 to $14,000 more to the town than alternate insurer MVP. At the time, board members asked town employees to review MVP’s coverages to see if that would work with the acknowledgment that the insurer had a smaller network, which could be problematic.

At the December 16 meeting, the response to that query was a forceful “no.” In a virtual meeting with many employees present, Town Clerk Belinda Clegg spoke passionately on behalf, she said, of herself and multiple employees about why employees felt that the coverage of MVP would not work.

“We really would like to stay with Blue Cross/Blue Shield for two reasons. [First,] it’s in the personnel policy. You can change carriers out, but you have to give a legitimate time frame, and we don’t feel we’ve had sufficient time.”

She said the employees she represented recognized the BC/BS rate had increased and those employees were willing to pay that tab to keep the coverage she said they needed.

Clegg said the second reason was the coverage would force some difficult choices on employees, including one that might require an unsafe change of prescription medication.

Board member Kurt Klein clarified that the point made at the last meeting was not a definitive change to MVP, but an opportunity to save the town money if the change would work for the employees. “We wanted to go to the employees and get some feedback and make sure their physicians are covered under the plan. What I’m hearing now is employees are not getting covered [if we change].” He wondered aloud just where the critical savings necessary in the new budget might come from, especially with an Australian ballot town meeting adding its own expenses and eliminating public discourse about budgeted moneys. 

Clegg responded, “You’ve brought on recently a new employee for $40,000 and now you’re trying to nickel-and-dime the employees [to pay for it].” That employee, new hire Town Administrator Randall Szott, was in the meeting and said nothing.

Chan Judd of the road crew said bluntly “nickel-and-diming an employee’s health insurance is wrong. Right now with all the issues that are going on, it’s the wrong way to go.” When a board member asked Judd what he meant by “all the issues,” he responded with incredulity “Coronavirus, all that out there, we’ve got this vaccine coming in, does insurance cover that? Nobody knows.”

No board member clarified for Judd or the other employees that the State of Vermont has explicitly said no one would have to pay to get vaccinated, just as no one has to pay for COVID testing. Instead, board member Kurt Billings said “My comments to Chan [Judd] and the others are we’re putting quite a large chunk of money to your health savings. That’s quite a lot of money that the town’s paying basically towards your hourly. If you’re talking $10,000 [health savings] that’s increasing your pay by $9 [an hour]. If you’re hired at $16/hr but getting another $10,000 you’re basically working for almost $25-26/hr.”

When Judd replied “we don’t get $10,000,” Billings was unable to clarify his math. One employee changed the focus back to what Clegg had originally put forth. “I’m hoping we don’t switch to [MVP]. The nearest doctor for my [child] is in Burlington, and that’s going to take time away from working for you guys, and neither of us can really afford that.” 

At the end of the meeting, the board went into executive session to deliberate. Upon coming out of that executive session, Klein made a motion to retain Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance for the next fiscal year. The board will continue to investigate other options for the future. All three present select board members voted in favor.