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Fairfax school system succeeds where Arlington's flunks

Larger school district agrees to new contract with Kaiser Permanente

Employees and retirees of the Arlington school system may be looking with envy at their counterparts one locality to the west.

Because Fairfax County Public Schools staff and retirees get to keep their insurance provider for 2024 and beyond.

Fairfax County School Board members on Dec. 14 approved a health-maintenance organization (HMO) and Medicare Advantage plan agreement with Kaiser Permanente to provide health services to about 5,550 FCPS employees and retirees and their 4,921 dependents.

The school system’s current contract with Kaiser Permanente was set to expire Dec. 31. The new  agreement over the next five calendar years will cost an estimated $400 million. The pact, which has five one-year renewal options, factors in 6-percent annual increases for 2025 through 2028 for active employees’ plans and 2-percent yearly hikes for retirees’ plans.

FCPS officials said Kaiser Permanente’s group/staff plan is the only one offered in the Washington, D.C., region that allows the school system’s employees and retirees to do “one-stop shopping” with primary-care doctors, specialists, pharmacies and testing facilities in one location.

Unlike other health-care-insurance models, however, which permit doctors and providers to contract with multiple health-insurance plans for payment of eligible claims, Kaiser’s physicians and services are accessible only through its plan.

Employees and some retirees of Arlington Public Schools also have Kaiser Permanente coverage, but under a set of circumstances that still remains somewhat murky, they will be losing them Dec. 31.

The Arlington school system put out a request for bids for a new health-care contract about a year ago. According to school officials, Kaiser did not respond, although the health-care giant later told the GazetteLeader that it wished to continue providing service to Arlington’s school system.

By then, however, it was too late. Arlington school leaders inked a deal with another insurance provider, but it took several months before those with Kaiser coverage were told they would be losing it at the end of the year.

The result was several months of chaos, and now an audit is being conducted for the Arlington School Board in an effort to determine what happened and why.

Scott McCaffrey contributed to this report.