Berkeley Heights School Board Proposal to Change Dental Plans Sparks Concern

Enthusiastic turnout of parents, students and friends cheer on teacher of the year awards.   Credits: Liz Keill
Superintendent of Schools Judith Rattner and board members prepare for meeting. Credits: Liz Keill
Finance Chairman John Sincaglia describes the CIGNA dental plan. Credits: Liz Keill
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – An agenda item to approve a CIGNA dental plan at the May 9 Board of Education meeting sparked discussion.
“Many dentists used by the teachers are not on this plan,” the president of the Berkeley Heights Education Association said. “Some have been going to the same dentist for over 20 years.”  She asked the board to check with the CIGNA broker, reconsider the switch or table the issue to research just how much money would actually be saved.  
Finance Chairman John Sincaglia said individuals would be eligible for reimbursement if they opt for a dentist out of network. “There’s a substantial savings,” he said, amounting to $80,000 in premiums.  “The difference is that this plan is equal or better. The process might be different, but it’s not an economic disadvantage.”  Because the premium is lower, he said, it would reduce the cost to the employee. Although he said there should be more dialogue, he said, “this is a good move for the board.” In addition, he said, the district would see a savings if both the medical and dental plan are covered by CIGNA. “We’ll have a break on both,” he said.
“It’s a good plan for employees,” board member Mary Ann Walsh said.  “It’s an equivalent plan with a lot of savings.”

But board member Doug Reinstein said, “This is the first I’m hearing of this.” He said he was concerned about the collective bargaining unit. “The next time something like this comes up, there should be a memo to the board. I’m not prepared to vote.”
Sincaglia said he didn’t intend to rush the matter through, but that it isn’t feasible to hold off.
Board Secretary Donna A. Felezzola said meetings have been planned for the next two weeks with employees regarding open enrollment.  But she said she thought the board should approve the plan before meetings with staff members are held.  “It benefits the employees. There’s no negative side,” she said.  Felezzola anticipated the enrollment period would end by July 1.
“We have to have coverage,” board member Gerard Crisonino said. “There’s not much choice but to move ahead. We would pay a higher premium with Delta.”
Sincaglia confirmed, “People are not restricted with the list of dentists. CIGNA has always been a big player in the dental field.”
But Reinstein said there should be a guarantee that coverage would be equal because of the contract with the teachers union and the potential of a grievance down the line.
“I asked those questions, too,” Sincaglia said. “CIGNA will make good on the difference.”
The board approved adoption of the CIGNA plan in a 5-1 vote, with Reinstein opposed.

Earlier in the evening, Teacher of the Year recognitions were given to Rita Varley – Mary Kay McMillan Early Childhood Center; Paulette Brown, Thomas P. Hughes School; Tyler Brown, Mountain Park School; Diana Bjorge, William Woodruff School; Linda Scherba, Columbia Middle School and Steven Ciarrocca, Governor Livingston High School.

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