The Hays chapter of the Kansas National Education Association is exploring its options with legal counsel after the Hays USD 489 school board voted Monday to offer insurance plans to staff despite negotiations with the teachers’ union not being complete.

The board voted Sept. 15 to end its participation in the state insurance plan administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield, citing nearly $1.4 million in projected increases in the next two years. Although there is a penalty for dropping out of the contract, the district expects it still will save money by switching to plans offered by Aetna.

On Monday, the Hays school board voted 6-0 to offer the four plans under negotiation, citing the time factor to get the enrollment process completed by the end of October. Board Vice President Mandy Fox left the meeting before the vote, but Board President Lance Bickle said she had expressed her support for the plans to him before leaving.

Superintendent John Thissen and Bickle noted Aetna had been agreeable to requests for changes from the teachers union, such as making the prescription drug plan mirror that of the current plan under BCBS and not requiring spouses to go through biometric screenings for the wellness plan.

“Everything they’ve asked about, they’ve been able to come back and add to or address those,” Bickle said at Monday’s meeting.

However, the HNEA said the union still had concerns that it had wanted to negotiate.

“We realize there was an urgency on the time factor but we felt we had time to get back to the table and work it out,” said Kathy Rome, director of the KNEA’s Cottonwood Unified Staff Service Program.

The HNEA’s main concern is the Aetna plan is not equal to the current BCBS plan, she said.

“We were told all along that the benefits of the plan would be equal to or greater than the benefits we had. There’s a big difference there,” Rome said.

One of the main issues is the increase of deductibles and co-pay on the Aetna plan, especially on Plan 2 of the four the board voted to offer.

Under the state plan’s comparable insurance coverage, an individual pays a $1,000 deductible for in-network service. Under the Aetna plan, the deductible is $3,500.

In addition, she said, the Aetna plan’s co-pays for emergency room and specialist visits apply only after that $3,500 deductible is met. That’s not the case with the BCBS plan, she said.

Plan 1 under Aetna, which Rome said is the most compatible with what BCBS offers, costs $65 more a month, she said.

Rome did say if an individual reaches the $3,500 deductible, the Aetna coverage overall would be less expensive.

“So if you have situations where you do get that, it will be less. But I think it will be difficult for many teachers paying that much up front, and for the ones that never really get past their deductible, that’s a big increase,” she said.

The union is also unhappy with the board’s “unilateral decision” to offer the plans without an agreement.

“This is a mandatorily negotiated topic. That’s just not the legal way to do it, to make a unilateral decision on something that’s mandatory,” she said.