On Federation’s plan

On Federation’s plan

JFNNJ rolls out health insurance for day schools now, synagogues and others soon

A brochure on the Kehillah cooperative.
A brochure on the Kehillah cooperative.

Here’s a sentence you don’t get to read (or write) very often: There’s some good news about health insurance.

Before you get too excited, the news doesn’t apply to everybody.

Right now, it only affects a few hundred people.

But down the road, it might even affect you.

The news is that the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey has launched the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey Group Health Association Plan — and opened up the plan to all the area day schools.

The Sinai Schools just switched its more than 130 employees to the new plan.

“Health insurance has been an intractable problem,” Sam Fishman, Sinai’s managing director, said. “Each year it’s been some variation of a nightmare, when we get the quote from the current carrier of how much they’re going to increase our premium. Ten, 20, sometimes 30 percent a year. It often involves a scramble to look for alternative coverage.

“Now we are offering our staff plans that provide superior coverage and benefits and are actually costing our employees as well as Sinai less money,” he said.

Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus also enrolled its staff in the plan, and the community’s other day schools are expected to come on board as it becomes time for their annual insurance renewals.

And come the fall, the federation expects to expand the plan to include federation-affiliated agencies and synagogues.

“It’s been a goal of ours for many years,” Debbie Gottlieb said of the new health plan. Ms. Gottlieb runs the federation’s Kehillah Cooperative Community Purchasing program, which has saved $3.5 million for the community’s institutions over the course of 10 years by negotiating group discounts for such products as office supplies and such services as landscaping and snow removal.

Ms. Gottlieb said that the eight day schools that responded to her inquiries stand to save a combined $780,000 a year under the new plan.

“It’s been a thorn in the side of all our organizations that healthcare costs have been rising,” she said. “We’ve tried numerous ways to get this done, but there were some roadblocks that prevented it. We were finally able to put it together in a way that answered all the questions people have while exhibiting quite a bit of savings. It was a matter of finding the right key to open the door. It had to be the right agent. It had to be someone who had done this before with non-profits, had to be someone who dealt with large groups.

Jason Shames, left, and Debbie Gottlieb

“The key was to get a large risk pool so we can make sure the carriers take notice of us, and to be able to be a large group while also maintaining everyone’s individuality and risk loss factor,” she said.

The program also includes vision, dental, and life insurance.

The program started with the day schools because “day schools have the largest amount of staff that are under their insurance” compared to synagogues and other non-profits, Ms. Gottlieb said. “The day schools were challenging because the population is predominately female of childbearing age, which is not the most attractive for insurance agencies.

“Hopefully, we’ll even be able to offer it to individuals, because there are many individuals who are suffering from high insurance costs,” she said.

“It’s another program only Federation can bring to the table,” Jason Shames, the federation’s CEO, said. “There’s no charge for the community on this. We do this wholly on our annual campaign resources.

“Given the enormous utilization of day schools, the ability to impact staff expenses by lowering them is tremendous,” he said.

Ms. Gottlieb said she already has heard from some agencies and synagogues that want to take part, and she wants to hear from more of them.

“I would encourage any institution or agency that is interested to reach out and let me know so we can start the paperwork and they’re not overlooked when we roll it out,” she said.

“The synagogues are really the ones who are feeling this terribly because they have only two to three full-time employees. They are at the mercy of the insurance companies. They’re really going to feel the impact tremendously.”

Technically speaking, the federation has created a “level funded self insurance plan, working through a third party administrator,” she said.

Practically speaking, employees are members of a Cigna Preferred Provider Organization (PPO).

When it comes to using their benefits, “The employee will not know any difference between what they had before and what they have now,” Ms. Gottlieb said. That’s not to say that the coverage will be the same, but that there will be no paperwork hurdles to overcome.

Mr. Fishman of the Sinai Schools, which provides specially tailored education to students with special needs inside other day schools, said, “It’s actually been a pleasure to work with Federation in putting this together.

“In the end, what’s come out of it is a win for Sinai, a win for our staff, and it’s a win for the children we serve with special needs, because the savings we’ve been able to achieve through the plan will allow us to use those funds for programming and providing more for our students.

“In the bigger picture, what Federation has done is a win for our community by reducing the overhead of our community organization.”

“Federation has been a very valuable resource and partner to us beyond the generosity of their allocations. Insurance is a serious financial issue for us as well as the other schools and organizations in the area,” Mr. Fishman said. “Federation has been there for Sinai and I know for other organizations as a partner over the years.”

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