OLYMPIA – Legislation which will bring equity and transparency to insurance programs for K-12 employees such as teachers, classroom assistants, bus drivers and special education teachers received bipartisan support Saturday on the senate floor.
Senate Bill 5940, sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, arrived on the governor’s desk early Wednesday morning. The bill provides an incentive of $5 million to the state’s schools districts to meet the following requirements to continue to provide benefits:
· Offer employees the option to enroll in a Health Savings Account/High Deductible Health Plan option;
· Move toward employee premiums so family coverage costs no more than three times the premiums charged for employee-only coverage;
· Offer at least one comprehensive plan in which a full-time employee’s share of premium costs does not exceed the share of premium costs paid by state employees;
· School districts must employ responsible procurement standards for all contracts.
If the Office of the Insurance Commissioner determines that a school district does not report the necessary data by one of two dates determined by the OIC, that district will be absorbed into the Public Employee Benefit Board.
“This bill is about fairness and transparency, but it is also a work in progress” Hobbs said. “There are literally hundreds if not thousands of stories from school employees paying indefensible amounts in health care premiums for family coverage – that must be fixed.
“Taxpayers contribute nearly $1 billion every biennium toward the purchase of insurance benefits. This is an enormous investment that deserves efficient management and oversight; but the lack of transparency prevents this.”
“From the beginning, the goal has been to create fairness for K-12 employees as well as accountability and transparency for taxpayers.”
The current system for classified K-12 workers favors individual coverage over family coverage, which can run upwards of $1,300 per month. Many public school employees – such as bus drivers, janitors, para-educators and lunch room workers – spend more than half their salaries on health insurance coverage. Without reform, these rates will only get worse with 10 percent health insurance inflation expected over the next two years.
Ken Flournoy and his wife Nicole have been employed by the Bethel School District for six years. In 2010, after 14 years away, Ken re-enlisted in the National Guard in order to provide full medical coverage for Nicole and their two kids, one of whom has special needs.
“In this day and age, a family can’t go without insurance,” Ken Flournoy said. “But every year we’ve watched our premiums go up. There comes a point when you have to choose between cutting out the necessities or paying for insurance. That’s a decision no family should have to make.”