La Crosse

Teachers in the La Crosse School District could pay higher deductibles and more for out-of-pocket expenses as the district considers changing its health insurance programs in an effort to save $1 million.

The district’s current provider, WEA Trust, appears to be the cheapest option among four insurance firms vying for its business. That means any real savings will come from changes to the existing plans, said Steve Salerno, associate superintendent of human resources for the district.

“We really need to make some reductions in our health insurance offerings,” Salerno said.

The district estimates it will face a budget deficit of up to $2 million next year.

Currently, the district pays about $14.7 million a year for health insurance through WEA Trust, a nonprofit provider.

WEA Trust was created about 40 years ago by the state’s teachers union. It insures about 60 percent of school districts and one-third of all Wisconsin public school employees. Since the loss of collective bargaining, more districts have tested the waters of the insurance industry, looking for cheaper options.

The nonprofit’s ability to put earnings back into member benefits instead of stakeholder dividends helps keep prices low and attract new business, said Steve Lyons, a spokesman for the group.

School districts that leave WEA Trust don’t typically save money just from switching providers; they save because they alter the plan, Lyons said.

“That’s where you see most of the huge savings,” he said. “It’s not the carrier.”

No more union bargaining means district officials have final say in what type of insurance is offered next year, but that doesn’t mean school workers should be cut out of the conversation, Salerno said. A subcommittee of teachers and school staff will consider a number of different plans over the next several weeks.

The new plans take effect in July.