The Village of Oak Park is exploring the benefits of entering a health care “consortium” with districts 97 and 200, which could potentially save hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars.
The village currently has a health care pool that includes the library, park district, township and several smaller agencies. With health care, the more lives you add, the more bargaining power, and adding Oak Park’s two school districts into the pool could save “a couple hundred thousand,” says Cheryl Witham, District 200’s chief financial officer.
Financial officers for various bodies of government have been exploring ways to collaborate and share costs for several years, says Kent Newton, superintendent of business operations for the park district. More in-depth talks on further combining started about six months ago.
“It would be great if there could be more coordination to take out some inefficiency,” Newton said.
“We believe in sharing costs and collaborating,” said Deirdre Brennan, the library’s executive director. “I think it’s a positive step; we’re all looking to save money and still provide good services.”
It’s too late for 2008, but the health care consortium could come to fruition in 2009, Newton said. However, they are searching for more immediate ways to collaborate on services that are easier to combine, like life insurance and prescription plans.
In the past, Village President David Pope has lobbied for more intergovernmental cooperation and finding ways to make tax dollars go further, Newton said.
“I think there’s considerable sensitivity to the impact that the tax burden is having on all residents here in Oak Park,” Pope said. “We need to continue to work effectively across governing bodies to do everything we can to be more efficient and conscious of limiting and reducing costs, while continuing to preserve the high quality of life and quality of services that we enjoy today.”
The consortium would also save time. Currently, agencies each have to go through the difficult process of requesting health care providers, selecting plans and brokers, and access fees.
“Theoretically, if we could do it all together, it would be a lot more efficient use of time and hopefully save money as well,” Newton said.
Currently, Dist. 200 pays $5 million per year for health care for its 519 employees. The library pays about $317,779 to cover its 40 employees. Dist. 97’s financial officer Don Robinson couldn’t be reached in time for this story’s deadline.
Witham said she’s doing her homework trying to figure out exactly how much the district might save with the consortium. She estimated it might be around $200,000, adding that the partnership wouldn’t make sense if it only saves $5-10,000 because it would cost more than that just to implement the change.
After the possible consortium is formed, Witham said the agencies will look at local wellness initiatives, to improve employee health and further cut coverage costs, reducing claims and long-term health problems.