SOUTH BEND -- These days, South Bend schools bus driver Linda Frick feels like she's working primarily to buy health insurance.
She's paying more than $300 every two weeks for the nine months she's employed for coverage for herself and her husband for the year.
Fellow bus driver Betty Kolacz is in a similar position.
She recently stopped taking one of her prescription medications because it went from costing $4 a month under her old health insurance plan to $30 a month under the new one.
"With gas prices going up, the cost of living going up, no raises," said Carolyn Miller, another driver, "it's getting to the point where it doesn't pay to work."
This fall, the school corporation overhauled its health care benefits.
Premiums went from about $150 to $210 a month for a single employee.
The family plan, which was roughly $350 a month, is now nearly $600, though an optional plan, which has a higher deductible, is available for less.
School district officials say the changes were unavoidable.
Curt Novotny, human resources director, pointed for one, to a new law -- HEA 1260 -- which puts a cap on the amount school districts can pay toward employee health insurance.
In addition, he said, the school corporation, which is self insured, experienced an increase in the number of very high -- more than $250,000 -- medical claims last year.
The decision to switch plans and add different tiers of coverage -- for an employee plus children, but not spouse, for example -- was made by a committee of 13 administrators and members of various unions that represent district employees.
In the end, the committee voted on the carrier option of its choice after reviewing several.
Novotny said the new premiums are admittedly higher, but employees will have help from the insurance company shopping for health care services.
"On our old plan," he said, "there was no incentive to do that ... It's a different mindset."
Another new benefit that's coming is one that employees might actually look forward to.
The district is in the process of reviewing bids to hire an operator for an on-site or near-site medical clinic it expects to open this spring.
It'll provide primary care services, including physical exams and immunizations, as well as generic prescriptions, all for free to covered employees.
Novotny said it's possible it could also open to employees who don't carry the district's health insurance and in the future, even to the community, on a fee-for-service-based system.