The Hays USD 489 school board voted Monday night to move forward on offering plans from its new provider, Aetna, even as negotiations on the plans are not finalized.

The board voted Sept. 15 to end participation in the state insurance plan administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield as a cost-saving measure. That vote was postponed from Aug. 28 after Hays NEA threatened possible legal action.

However, Superintendent John Thissen and board President Lance Bickle indicated negotiations with the teachers’ union since then had gone well.

The two groups last met Oct. 3, the third such meeting since Sept. 18.

“The three meetings actually I think were very advantageous,” Thissen said. “The list of things that was able to be gained by the dialogue and the work on it was fantastic.”

For example, he said, before the negotiations had actually started, requests were made for Aetna to mirror the prescription drug plan offered by BCBS, and Aetna agreed with no extra costs added.

“At the end of the day, it’s the exact same prescription drug plan they have now. We’re pretty happy with it,” Bickle said.

In negotiations, Aetna also agreed to add mental health coverage from High Plains Mental Health, and that spouses of employees will not be required to have biometric screening for the wellness plans to obtain the $20 monthly discount.

“Everything they’ve asked about, they’ve been able to come back and add to or address those,” Bickle said.

Thissen said there is not yet a tentative agreement between the groups at this point, however.

There are four coverage plans that will be offered to district employees. Plan 1 is designed for those in poor health or who know they will face health expenses such as an operation, Thissen said. Plans 3 and 4 would be for those who are relatively healthy.

The sticking point now is for which plan the district will offer coverage. The board prefers Plan 2, while the union prefers Plan 1.

The board needed to vote Monday, even though negotiations are not complete, in order to start the enrollment process. It needs to be completed by the end of October.

“Our timeline is really horrible,” Thissen said. “We are at crunch time of truly needing to have informational meetings next week, and probably one-on-one meetings the week after. We were planning the first week in October, then planning this week and now we’re planning next week. I don’t think we can push it back any further.”