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Berkshire Health Group Keeping Insurance Premiums Flat in FY22

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Towns and school districts throughout the county who are members of Berkshire Health Group will see no increase in health or dental insurance premiums in fiscal 2022, and the group will offer its units a premium holiday this June.
The BHG board of directors met virtually on Monday morning to hear a review of its fiscal 2020 audit and decide on the premium rate for the year that begins on July 1, 2021.
Berkshire Health Group is a joint purchase group that allows 32 governmental units throughout the county to combine their buying power to provide health insurance for their employees and retirees.
Under the plan's umbrella, there are more than 3,300 employees and retirees. The group is directed by a board with representation from 11 of BHG's largest municipal entities: Adams, Great Barrington, Lanesborough, Lenox and Williamstown plus six school districts, Berkshire Hills, Central Berkshire, Hoosac Valley, Mount Greylock, Northern Berkshire Vocational/Technical (McCann Tech) and Southern Berkshire.
Consultant Joseph Anderson of Gallagher Benefit Services told the board Monday that his firm recommended keeping premiums flat for FY22.
He said the health insurance industry in general is expecting some increase in claims in the year ahead because of the "pent-up demand" of individuals who delayed appointments and procedures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blue Cross, in fact, is recommending an increase of 2.2 percent, Anderson said. His firm ran the numbers without a "COVID effect" and found that Berkshire Health Group could sustain a decrease of 4.3 percent in its premiums.
"That gets you to a prudent funding rate of 0 percent based on uncertainty and future claims due to COVID," Anderson said. "I think it makes sense to keep funding rates where they are. I don't think you run afoul of any rational assessment of where the claims might be in the future. It does require a vigilance in terms of where it's going to be in the future.
"When you fund it like this, it will be less than Blue Cross is projecting for the first time in a long time."
The directors on the conference call voted unanimously to accept Anderson's recommendations and hold rates steady for health and dental coverage -- welcome news for municipal employees and governmental bean counters as they look ahead to FY22.
"Everyone can breathe a little sigh right now and get back to building your budgets," said Sharon Harrison, the chair of the BHG board and the business administrator of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.
The idea of a one-month "premium holiday" was proposed by Adams Town Accountant Mary Beverly. She suggested it after the board heard a report that Berkshire Health Group's surplus as of Dec. 31 was north of $23 million
"Right now, we keep going up from $18 million to $19 million to $23.7 million," said Beverly, who was participating in her last meeting on the board after nine or 10 years of service to the group. "Someone has to get this money back. It's not fair for Berkshire Health Group to say, 'We're keeping this money just in case,' when it belongs to the entities."
Beverly first proposed that the board make a multi-year commitment to return funds to the member units with the understanding that the distribution would be reassessed before final distributions are made to make sure fiscal conditions allow it.
Ultimately, the board agreed unanimously to the premium holiday for this June with a promise to consider other ways to redistribute the surplus at future meetings.
The move mirrored a decision by the BHG board last April to give its entities a premium holiday in June 2020.
BHG's accountant, Bill Fraher, later supported the idea of returning some of the surplus to the group's participants.
"Some groups are really conservative and would rather have [a surplus as a] hedge against two or three really bad years, as unlikely as that is," Fraher said. "Some groups are really aggressive when it comes to returning funds. … The problem is if you have a really bad year, you have 10 or 15 percent [premium] increases, and everyone gets very upset about that.
"It's a balancing act. And I can't say it's an easy decision. But with the amount you have right now, in my opinion, it makes some sense."

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Williams College Asks Town to Help Clear Way for Davis Center Building Project

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Chandler House is also on the college's chopping block. The Historical Commission will hear on Monday the college's proposal to raze Chandler and Hardy. 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College Monday will ask the town's Historical Commission to sign off on the demolition of buildings built in 1914 and 1854.
The buildings are slated for removal to support the programming of the Davis Center, which already utilizes one of the two structures in question.
The Davis Center, named for noted Black Williams alumni W. Allison Davis and John A. Davis, began as the college's Multicultural Center in 1989 and supports students from historically disenfranchised groups as well as international students.
The center's main offices are in Jenness House on Morley Drive, which is flanked by the 107-year-old Chandler House, which fronts on Walden Street, and 167-year-old Hardy House.
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