QUEENSBURY -- Officials at the Queensbury Union Free School District are hoping to save thousands of dollars on health insurance by having employees switch medical benefit plans.

In December, the district offered a one-time cash incentive to employees if they left a Matrix plan for a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan, the cheaper of the two.

There were 101 employees who made the switch, although only 39 were eligible for the incentive. Of that total, 33 took the incentive, which ranged from $175 to $500 per person, said Douglas Huntley, the superintendent of schools.

"We have been encouraging employees to switch to the PPO because it offers comparable benefits and it costs less for the school district," Huntley said.

The employees who recently switched plans will save the district nearly $71,000 over the next six months — far more than the cost to offer a one-time incentive. Officials say the savings will be higher in the future, as premium rates increase and more employees change to the PPO plan.

At the moment, the district pays nearly $7,100 for an employee on the individual Matrix plan, compared to $6,100 for the PPO plan.

For a family plan, the priciest of the benefit options, the district pays almost $17,500 for the Matrix and $15,200 for the PPO.

The district began offering the PPO plan in 2007. But since then, many employees have been reluctant to leave the Matrix plan, Huntley said.

While the PPO plan offers comparable benefits to the Matrix plan, it is expected to improve even more come June, Huntley said.

In December, the district offered began offering an incentive. Employees on the individual plan received $175 if they switched to the PPO plan, while the incentive was $350 for those with the two-person plan and $500 for those with the family plan.

Employees who took the incentive cannot switch back to the Matrix plan. Another six who were eligible for the incentive but passed on it can still return to the Matrix plan, Huntley said.

Before the incentive was offered, the ratio of employees on the Matrix and PPO plans was 60-40. Now the ratio has been reversed.

Queensbury has almost 500 employees who receive health benefits.

The district has nearly $7.9 million in the 2009-10 budget for health benefits to employees and retirees, said John DeSanto, the district’s assistant superintendent for business.

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