Texas Senate Bill 1444 was submitted to the governor May 26 after being passed by both the state House and Senate. The bill prohibits school districts from using alternative group health coverage starting with the 2022-23 school year. Both Pearland and Friendswood ISDs had started to move forward with offering alternative health care options for the 2021-22 school year prior to the bill’s passage.

FISD’s board of trustees gave approval to obtain alternative medical coverage at its April 12 meeting. PISD discussed using an alternative at its May 11 workshop. With the bill’s enrollment, both plans would be legal for only one school year.

At this time, PISD will go ahead with its plans for next year. FISD did not have a comment on whether the passage of this bill changes its plans as of press time.

Both districts offer health care through Teacher Retirement System ActiveCare. State law does not allow districts to leave the Teacher Retirement System ActiveCare plan once signed up. Both FISD and PISD are on the ActiveCare plan, meaning it used to be the only option available for employees in the district who wanted to have their health care through the district. However, employees will have another option for this upcoming year.

FISD is contracting with the Texas Health Schools Health Benefits Program, and PISD is contracting with the Texas Educators Health Plan through its third-party administrator for the 2021-22 school year as of press time. Both plans are compatible with ActiveCare, allowing districts to opt for them as well as allowing employees on ActiveCare to move to the new plan if they choose. Several other districts in the state on ActiveCare have started offering these programs as other options or other compatible programs with success, representatives from PISD and FISD said.

Offering more options

The Texas Educators Health Plan offers the same two plans—a copay plan and a high-deductible plan—but with lower premiums on both plans, said Sundie Dahlkamp, PISD executive director of human resource services. The plans are relatively similar with the same health care providers, but the lower premiums are a perk for employees, she said.

“For some people, that is very attractive,” Dahlkamp said.

FISD spent 18 months researching a viable option for the district’s health care, Executive Director of Human Resources Lindsey Foley and Chief Financial Officer Amber Petree said. FISD was introduced to the plan through its third-party provider. When looking at alternative medical benefits, they opted for one that was recommended and widely used, they said. PISD chose from plans recommended to them through the district’s third-party administrator, U.S. Employee Benefits Service Group. The plan is also used widely throughout the state, Dahlkamp said.

“We weren’t looking for a bunch of options; we were looking for an option that would save employees money,” Dahlkamp said.

Roughly half of FISD’s employees are on the state health insurance, as are 57% of PISD’s. Those on the state health insurance can switch to the new plans before the start of the school year once the new coverage year begins. In the case of a major life event, employees can switch in the middle of the benefit period, Foley and Petree said at the April meeting. The benefit period is the length of time services are covered and is typically a calendar year.

“This is really good for our employees,” Dahlkamp said.