City studies employee health insurance options

A retired Milford teacher quoted Yogi Berra last week when he said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” and asked the Board of Aldermen not to consider a move from Anthem Blue Cross to Cigna for city and school employee health care coverage.

James Santa Barbara said that when he retired in 2004, he was told he could keep his Anthem plan. “I like the plan. I’m happy with the plan, and I want to keep it,” he said.

The comments were made at a budget hearing last Wednesday, and Santa Barbara was referring to 2012, when city and school employees rallied to stop a switch from Anthem Blue Cross to Cigna. Ultimately, the city stayed with Anthem, which came back with a revised and lower-cost proposal for the city.

Mayor Ben Blake said this time is much different: There has been no decision to move from Anthem to Cigna, and a committee, which includes union representation, has been involved in the process of seeking proposals and analyzing proposals from Cigna and Anthem.

The committee was scheduled to meet with Cigna and Anthem representatives Friday and then planned to review their proposals, according to Tania Barnes, the city’s director of human resources.

Barnes said it had been six and a half years since the city requested proposals for its health care coverage, and best practices, which are guidelines for efficiently running an organization, recommend that be done every five years.

She said requesting proposals was the prudent thing to do.

“Instead of doing this in a vacuum, I suggested we include stakeholders and make it an open process,” Barnes said.

In November she invited city and school union representatives and set up a review committee. Each union has one member, plus an alternate, assigned to the committee: There are nine city unions and six school unions.

The city’s employee benefits consulting firm, Milliman Inc., is working with the committee to select the best provider, Barnes said.

The committee, which has been meeting since November, sought proposals from companies and recently narrowed the field to Anthem and Cigna.

“Those were the two that provided full, comprehensive proposals,” Barnes said.

On Friday the committee was scheduled to interview representatives of those two companies, and the companies were expected to present their best and final offer, which the committee will now discuss.

Barnes said the committee will probably meet again at the end of the week to discuss the proposals further. There is no deadline for making a decision, but she said if the city decides to move to Cigna, it should be done before the fiscal year ends.

City and school retirees had not been involved in the discussions, but Barnes said a representative of the retirees has now been invited to take part.

It was several retirees who raised the matter at last week’s budget hearing.

Kathy Gage, a retired schoolteacher, asked the aldermen to look long and hard if they are asked to consider changing the city’s health insurance carrier from Anthem to Cigna.

Gage said Cigna is “notorious” for being difficult to work with in certain situations, especially when a client is retired and also working with Medicare.

“Dealing with Cigna on the phone and in writing is a virtual nightmare,” Gage said.

Retired teacher and former teachers’ union leader Barbara Santa Barbara also talked about a potential change in health care providers. She asked the aldermen to insure that anyone affected be represented at discussions, and she insisted on transparency.

“In my opinion the current provider is outstanding, and I hope you will let them continue,” she said.

Mayor Ben Blake said it makes sense to seek proposals, not just because it is recommended every five years but because health care represents a $40-million cost per year, or 20% of the city budget.

Milford Police Department Union President Dennis Broderick said he has not attended the insurance meetings, but sent a union officer to represent the police union. So far, he is satisfied with the way the process has gone.

“I would say it is nothing like 2012,” Broderick said. “I applaud the city attorney and human resource director for bringing the unions in on the decision-making process.

“The city has the final say on changing from Anthem to another provider if they choose to,” Broderick continued. “So with that in mind, we will be sure the city abides by our collective bargaining agreement that says if the city is to change health care providers, the plan has to be an equal or better plan. So in short, so far so good, but the process is not over yet.”

The teachers’ union called an emergency meeting of members last Thursday to discuss the possibility of a provider change.