Dear Friends and Neighbors,
In the past few weeks, my office has been inundated with emails from teachers around my district, so I wanted to take this opportunity to provide some information about the changes being proposed by the Legislature regarding K-12 health-care benefits.
Please read on for more information.
Busting the myth “We hate teachers”!
Let me start by saying, I love teachers. Heck, I am a teacher! As a former middle-school science teacher, I understand the challenges and frustrations of being an educator. I can also truly say, I have walked in your shoes.
I can’t say I was surprised by the letters I received recently, but I was surprised by the tone. Many voiced the same message: that any changes to teachers’ health benefits were a “clear indication that this state hates teachers.”
Wow. One of the most important and essential benefits the state provides for teachers and school employees is health insurance. Currently the state devotes more than $1 billion to cover 200,000 school employees and their families. Because each school district negotiates its own coverage options, the end result is a largely fragmented system, spread over 295 school districts, often with high-priced offerings that aren’t equitable from employee to employee.
In an effort to bring accountability, equity between districts and lower costs to K-12 employees, the Legislature is currently considering Senate Bill 5976. This bill would group all school employees into one common pool that would allow for increased buying power. Right now, the premium a school employee may pay for health insurance varies widely between districts. Our state has a school district as small as 14 students and another with 50,000 students. Employees in the smaller-sized districts are paying significantly more than those in larger districts; by creating a School Employee Benefits Board, modeled after the Public Employee Benefits Board that has worked well for other state employees (including me), no one would be penalized financially for working in a smaller district.
The SEBB would be made up of 13 members from the public-education community: administrators, teachers, classified staff and school board officials. The remaining SEBB members would include a representative from the Health Care Authority, the Office of Financial Management and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The board would have the authority to select plans, the terms and contribution amount. It’s difficult to see how a board largely composed of members representing public schools would make decisions that would “cost more, reduce coverage and limit choices,” as claimed in some of the messages I received.
A recent comparison of the monthly average premiums of K-12 employees and state workers revealed the following:
As is evident, there is a serious mischaracterization of the facts surrounding the proposed benefit changes. I strongly suggest folks who are curious about the proposed changes read the bill here. Because the bill is long and filled with jargon, however, the Senate bill report provides a shorter option here while still providing a great foundation for seeing the proposed changes.
The formation of the SEBB would also provide transparency about educators’ health-care costs in a way that is currently unavailable, making it much easier than it is currently, for the Legislature to ensure that the benefit system is working well for all our school employees and for taxpayers.
You might remember three years ago when the issue of changing educators’ health plans first came up. I was the lone Republican in the House of Representatives to stand with teachers and stand against changes in their health care plans – at that time, it just didn’t make any sense to fool around with it. Now, however, we have seen dramatic increases in the cost of teachers’ health-care plans. I have reviewed the pay stubs of some of my dear friends who are teachers and I’m disgusted to see their bottom line has shrunk significantly because of these increasing costs.
I’m often contacted by teachers who would like to have my “Cadillac” health insurance. While I’m not sure I’d go so far as to equate my health insurance to a Cadillac, it’s no Yugo either! My own health plan costs have held steady and the quality has not diminished. It is my hope that by putting teachers in a comparable plan, along with the COLA for educators included in the Senate budget, that the result would be a healthy increase in school employee take-home pay.
I know change can be difficult, however, the characterization in emails I’ve received that this legislation is “an attack” and that we “hate teachers” could not be less accurate. This bill was a bipartisan effort to take care of our K-12 employees, who would benefit greatly from this change.
Finally, I’d like to point out the fact that the state’s largest teachers’ union has partnered with an insurance carrier to manage some of the current health-insurance plans offered by school districts. The union leadership benefits financially from maintaining control over those plans, and would not benefit greatly from the change being considered in Olympia.