HURON COUNTY, Mich. - Dispute continues in Thumb-area schools over a union-affiliated health care plan, as many public school districts report at least an 8 percent rate hike, according to a report in the Huron Daily Tribune.

The Michigan Education Special Services Association raised rates by an average of 8.5 percent among districts in Huron County, while the statewide average increase was 4.9 percent. Port Hope Community Schools and Owendale-Gagetown Area Schools both will see double-digit increases, according to the Tribune.

MESSA is a third-party insurance administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association. It sells insurance packages underwritten by Blue Cross Blue Shield to a majority of Michigan school districts.

The Tribune reported that a number of school officials believe MESSA is too expensive and that comparable plans are available at lower costs, while teachers believe MESSA offers the best service and benefits. Saving money on health care will be a focal point during the next round of contract negotiations in many districts, school officials said.

Owendale-Gagetown believes that MESSA made a mistake in counting the number of full-family subscribers in its district, inflating its increase, and the school board passed a resolution in protest, Superintendent Dana Compton told the Tribune.

Meanwhile, in Kent County, the Greenville Education Association and Greenville Public Schools reached a contract agreement under which teachers can choose between MESSA and Priority Health plans, the Grand Rapids Press reported. The district also switched to SETSEG for life insurance, long-term disability, vision and dental coverage, according to the report.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Greenville teachers reach contract agreement that saves district $250,000," Sept. 2, 2009

Huron Daily Tribune, "School officials, union reps don't agree on MESSA," Sept. 1, 2009

FURTHER READING: Michigan Education Report, “Splitting the health insurance bill,” Aug.19, 2009