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APS employees to pay more for health insurance

FOR THE RECORD: This article incorrectly reported how school board members voted on a change to employee health benefits. The board members who voted against the change were Lorenzo Garcia, Analee Maestas and Steven Michael Quezada.

Albuquerque Public Schools employees will pay 5 percent more for their health insurance next year and will also see increases in their out-of-pocket costs for services.

The change, approved by the school board Wednesday, is a response to rising health care costs. Aaron Wells, who consults with APS for insurance broker Willis, said those costs are largely a result of the national Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.

For example, the act does not allow insurers to limit coverage of pre-existing conditions. It also requires employers to offer benefits to any employee working 30 hours per week or more, which could make some substitute teachers eligible.

The cost of employee dental benefits will increase by 7.3 percent, while the vision plan will not change.

The changes will go into effect in January.

The out-of-pocket maximum employees can pay for medical costs will increase from $2,000 to $2,500, under the new plan. Co-pays for basic services such as primary care and specialist visits will stay the same, but employees will now have to pay 20 percent of the cost for services like outpatient surgery, rather than a pre-set co-pay.

The changes were approved by the school board 4-3, with board members Lorenzo Garcia, Analee Maestas and Steven Michael Quezada voting in dissent.

The dissenting board members did not argue for a different solution to the problem of rising costs, but expressed concern about the hardship the changes will place on employees, especially those who earn low salaries.

“How do our educational assistants, how will they be able to afford insurance costs like this?” Maestas asked.

Vera Dallas, APS director of employee benefits, responded that she hopes more employees will use flexible health spending accounts, which let them set aside money for future health costs before taxes. But she also acknowledged that the changes will be difficult.

Board members who did vote for the changes said they did so reluctantly, feeling they had no choice.

“I’m going to make a motion to approve even though it’s horrible,” board member Kathy Korte said. “My heart goes out to our employees.”