School board votes to stick with Blue Cross, current clinic partner

Published 10:28 am Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Health insurance was the topic of concern at Monday’s Albert Lea school board meeting.

Board members agreed to use Blue Cross Blue Shield as the district’s health insurance provider. 

According to Aaron Casper, an employee benefits consultant for National Insurance Services, there were other proposals from Medica Direct, the Public Employees Insurance Program and United Healthcare.

Email newsletter signup

“All of those proposals were competitive,” Casper said.

But in the end, Public Employees Insurance Program was eliminated because its rates fell on top of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s current rates and had a limited network and referral system. United Healthcare and Medica Direct were not selected because of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s network discount in the area.

According to Jennifer Walsh, director of finance and operations, the Blue Cross network is an open network, and she was not aware of any out-of-network providers.

In addition to the discussion about health insurance, the board talked about its employee health clinic and whether it should continue its partnership with Health Partners or move to a new company. 

Casper said the district began its clinic through Health Partners Well@Work Clinic in 2014.

The district is now sharing their clinic space with Freeborn County, a partnership that has only recently started.

“At the Brookside clinic, it became very evident that we had an opportunity for some partnering,” he said. “Long story short, we had those conversations in 2021, it was brought to the board back in 2021 for approval to actually have Freeborn County join Brookside Clinic here in Albert Lea Schools, and that has been a good transition.”

The district is in its fourth month with Freeborn County.

“When we were getting and receiving the information from Mayo Clinic and MercyOne as well as Health Partners, after that the dialogue really gravitated to … a look at the numbers and the care options that were available, and really be [request for proposal] specifics,” he said. “Folks, when we conducted the RFP, MercyOne did not really follow the RFP. They submitted a different proposal.”

According to Casper, trying to match the proposal was like comparing an apple and an orange, but said he understood why MercyOne did that.

“There’s been a substantial outlay in cash for a lower rate that we’re certainly well aware of, but we, too, as a school district have made some investments in our own clinic for the past eight years,” he said. “The ask and the RFP was, ‘What could you do for our clinic with our new partner, Freeborn County.’”

According to Casper, there were two discussions and a unanimous consensus within the room to basically take the RFP, because they were close to a couple that were in the running (including Mayo Clinic), so they essentially laid aside the RFP and continued the status quo, a plan that has two benefits.

“Number one, the school district — because of the partnership with Freeborn County — was going to save, right out of the gate, between $125,000 to $135,000, just because of that based on utilization within our clinic,” he said. “So it was automatically going to be a win for the school district.”

Another reason was the acknowledgement that they had just partnered with Freeborn County, which is bringing employees to the clinic. Casper said if they were to disband the clinic, it was likely Freeborn County wouldn’t follow down the road of a MercyOne integration.

“Taking a look at the price point and the savings that was on the table and the partnership that was there, that’s where we as a committee came up with the unanimous recommendation to essentially stay status quo,” he said.         

He said they would continue to evaluate what the proposed partnership with MercyOne could look like in the future.

Mike Funk, superintendent of Albert Lea Area Schools, agreed with Casper’s take.

“At this point, when we put together the RFP and as Aaron had mentioned tonight, we had just entered into a partnership with Freeborn County,” Funk said. “That is why we structured the RFP and the parameters that we did.”

He also had some concerns and questions about MercyOne.

“I met with a number of businesses and Mercy folks last September as they talked about opening their business clinic up, and I had some concerns that there were a lot of unanswered questions at that point, and we’re pretty comfortable in our environment.”

By doing this, he wants the clinic to work out any issues it’s dealing with and said he was open to future dialogue.

Casper said there were roughly 1,300 members in the combined school district and county clinic. By comparison, MercyOne has 1,800 utilizing its worksite clinic option.

A number of people attended the meeting to speak about their experiences using MercyOne.

Business owner Craig Ludtke, a trustee on the Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition, spoke to the board about MercyOne’s latest offer to the district and said MercyOne would like to operate in the district’s clinic for one year at the Brookside site, contingent on moving the clinic to MercyOne’s clinic at Northridge Mall for an additional two years.He said to alleviate concerns about the entire three-year contract, he suggested a cancellation clause after a certain time period.

Chad Vogt, CEO of Mrs. Gerry’s Kitchen, wanted to talk about choice. Mrs. Gerry’s offers both a Mayo and non-Mayo plan.

“Some of the choices that we did not have, prior to MercyOne coming to town, was our clinic did not have (an) … urgent care as well as a work-related injury program that we can send work-related injuries to,” he said. “They did not have X-ray on-site, which MercyOne does.” 

Andrea Jensen, a trustee with the Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition, read to the board part of the organization’s mission statement.

“Our mission statement is to establish and promote the overall health and wellness of the residents of Albert Lea, Freeborn County and the surrounding area. This objective includes the promotion of health care market competition, expansion and access to essential health care services and the improvement of healthcare outcomes for the residents of Albert Lea, Freeborn County and the surrounding area.”

She read that because she said there had been social media conversation that didn’t reflect who the coalition was.

In other action the board:

  • Approved 2022-23 health insurance premiums and the results of the dental insurance RFP. 
  • Agreed to hire the Minnesota School Board Association in their search for a new superintendent, as Funk will leave to take over the superintendent position at Stillwater Area Public Schools. The approximate timeline for a new hire is six weeks, but board members were comfortable hiring an interim if none of the candidates the search firm selects meets their standards. There will be a meeting Tuesday in the boardroom, where members will listen to MSBA give a virtual presentation. 
  • Recognized military families as April is Military Child Appreciation Month, as well as Albert Lea wrestlers Mike Olson, Cameron Davis and Logan Davis, none of whom were physically present.
  • Agreed to the termination and non-renewal of a teaching contract for one probationary teacher, and they agreed to a resolution that will place another staff member on unrequested leave of absence because that position will be discontinued. That employee will have 14 days to challenge the placement on unrequested leave.
  • Agreed to the Compass Group USA Inc. (Chartwells) proposal to the Food Management RFP. According to Jennifer Walsh, director of finance and operations for the district, the district received responses from Chartwells, Taher and SFE.
  • Approved a master agreement between the district and Albert Lea Schools Technical Employees Association. 
  • Approved a trip for high schoolers to the Dominican Republic next summer at a cost of $3,030 per student.
  • Approved a memorandum for understanding that “would facilitate the alternative teacher professional pay system,” which is not part of the master contract.

In their March-April fiscal report, the district spent $2.189 million, over half ($1.439 million) in the general fund, while in March the board accepted $24,597 in donations, with $16,504 going towards the Tiger Alumni Student Assistance Fund. 

In routine business, board members agreed to appointments for Krystal Paulson, Amanda Montes, Hailey Barnes, Linda Larson, Tianna Abrego, Susan Hanson, Molly Miller, Molly Appicelli and Nicole Luna. They also agreed to leaves of absence for Jane Beighley, Susan Gudal, Dixcie Lindberg, Tara Paulson, Dara Gjersvik, Amy White, Sherri Lauen, Rachael Korman and Jolene Svensen. Members accepted resignations/retirements for Zachary Riopelle, Sandi Sorenson, Rachel Bera, James VanRyswyk, Brittany Voigt, Kelly Weitzel, Tiffany Mueller, Romy Yost, Kyle Milliron, Laura Sorenson, Emily Ayers, Shelly DeVries, Mary Gulbrandson, Karol Hansen and Mary Jo Volkman.

They agreed to hire 31 people for a variety of spring coaching positions.

The board is having a special meeting to discuss the search for the next superintendent at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Brookside.