KENDALL — At least two employees at an alternative charter school are calling for an investigation into payroll deductions they believed were going towards health insurance only to find out they have no coverage. Raphael Williams, 38, who has worked at Bay Point Schools since 2003, said the school has been deducting money from his paychecks for insurance but when his wife went into the hospital for surgery, he found out their insurance had been cancelled since 2009.
Another employee who asked not to be named or his job description given, talked of a similar experience.
“I went to the doctor last week for my back. That’s when I found out I didn’t have insurance because the school didn’t pay the premiums,” that employee said.
“At first I thought it was a mistake or something. I called the agent that handles our insurance and he said he would look into it but I’ve heard nothing from him,” the employee said.
Like Williams, that employee has pay stubs showing payroll deductions that were intended to pay for health coverage, this time through United Healthcare of Florida.
When contacted, United Healthcare spokeswoman Tracey Lempner said the company was looking into the matter.
Like Williams, that employee is calling for an investigation into the matter.
Officials of the Kendall-based school are not commenting on the issue and it is not known whether other employees are affected. The South Florida Times sent several e-mails and made repeated calls to Bay Point Schools founder and CEO Mary Louise Cole seeking comment but she had not responded.
An internal memorandum Cole sent to staff on June 12 indicated the school was facing financial challenges.
“Over the next few weeks, we must make some very tough decisions regarding our management model and staffing needs at every level to efficiently deal with our reduced student body and to help reduce our overall costs. Unfortunately, this will, no doubt, require some layoffs and reductions in existing positions,” Cole wrote, making no mention of any unpaid insurance premiums.
The alternative charter school for boys is sanctioned by Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Employees have the option of having separate vision, disability, healthcare and dental insurance premiums deducted from their paychecks.
In the case where payroll-deducted premiums were not forwarded to the insurance companies, there could be serious consequences.
“Pocketing or failing to forward insurance premiums could be a crime,” said Nina Ashley, spokeswoman for the state Department of Financial Services which regulates insurance companies. “If these details are true, it potentially could be a criminal matter.”
But Ashley added that the department had not received any complaints against Bay Point Schools.
Williams’ pay stubs show he has been paying $74 a month for disability coverage with AFLAC insurance. He said he did not know his policy was cancelled last year. He was counting on benefits from the policy to help cover bills while his wife was hospitalized and out of work for six weeks earlier this year.
“We went from two paychecks coming in, down to one,” said Williams, who has worked at Bay Point Schools since 2003 as a counselor and later a supervisor. “Here I thought I had some kind of protection in case of an emergency and I have nothing.”
AFLAC said that, as of this week, the school had not forwarded premiums.
“We have not received payment from the school. According to our agent, he was unable to pick up the check until yesterday and it was sent overnight delivery and should arrive today for processing,” Laura Kane, AFLAC vice president for Communications, said in an e-mail to South Florida Times on Wednesday.
But, Kane added, “I am not aware of any employees who were denied benefits because of the lapse of coverage but, if there were, they will be entitled to benefits once the check clears.”
The agent Kane referred to is Edward Zarate, president of Zarate Insurance Group, based in Homestead. Zarate did not return several phone calls seeking comment. An internal document written on his company’s letterhead, a copy of which was obtained by South Florida Times, shows Williams’ policy was cancelled on Oct, 1, 2009, due to non-payment of premiums. The undated document also shows $658.90 in unpaid premiums.
Miami-Dade schools spokesman John Schuster said the school district assigns two teachers to Bay Point and their healthcare is paid through the district, so they wouldn't be affected by any nonpayment of premiums.
Bay Point also contracts with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to administer the agency’s drug treatment programs. The school operated a DJJ halfway house but that contract was cancelled in June due state budget cuts.
“DJJ has not received any complaints from employees regarding the insurance payment allegations,” DJJ spokesman John Penela said in an e-mail to South Florida Times.
Bay Point once operated four campuses in Miami-Dade County, employing hundreds of people. In recent years, the school has closed three of its campuses and laid off employees. Those still on the job have endured salary cuts and missed paychecks, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
“No one has answered my questions about what happened to my money,” Williams said.
The employee who asked to have their identity concealed said if premiums were not forwarded by mistake or were an oversight, the school would have told employees to check to make sure they had coverage, but that had not been done.
“There is no telling how many employees are walking around thinking they have insurance. And how do we know if the laid off people were paying for insurance that they never had? We need an investigation,” the employee said.