July 3, 2022
  • July 3, 2022

Bill to make teachers subject to state health insurance passes Senate

By on February 3, 2022 0

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation to put Idaho teachers and other education workers on state health insurance headed to the governor Thursday.

The Senate voted 32-3 to approve the plan that supporters say will allow Idaho K-12 teachers and other school workers to take home more of their paychecks by cutting costs premiums and deductibles.

The bill would give school districts the option to leave private health care providers and join the state’s self-funded health insurance plan.

“The motivation for this effort is to make our Idaho schools more competitive in recruiting and retaining teachers and support staff,” said Republican Sen. Jim Woodward, sponsor of the bill.

Lawmakers said health insurance costs are eating away at Idaho teachers’ salaries and causing many to consider leaving the profession. Donors also said passage of the bill could reduce reliance on school levies that some school districts use, which can increase property taxes.

“I think this will do more to increase take-home pay for teachers than maybe some of the other efforts we’ve made in recent years,” Republican Sen. Steven Thayn said. “We have increased teachers’ salaries several times over the past four or five years. However, much of this teacher salary has been eaten up by rising health insurance costs.

The bill is not a budget bill, and it does not affect money. Instead, it creates a dedicated fund that would hold the money needed for public schools to subscribe to the state’s group medical and dental insurance plan.

Legislation with funding should follow. This involves a one-time $75.5 million appropriation needed if all schools choose to participate in the state employment plan.

The other part involves an ongoing $105 million to help cover employee health insurance costs. This would increase the $8,400 schools receive per employee to pay for private health insurance costs to $12,500, the level the state pays for its employees for health insurance.

Under the plan, about $20 million in state funding would be eliminated in leadership bonuses for teachers.

“Teaching is a very stressful job,” said Democratic Senator Janie Ward-Engelking. “I know that having better health coverage will be a benefit not only for the teacher but also for the students, because if we can keep our teachers in the classroom and healthy, that’s a good thing.”

The bill was approved by the House last week and has the support of Republican Gov. Brad Little.

“Thank you to the Idaho Senate for passing this GAME-CHANGING legislation for Idaho teachers – part of my Leading Idaho plan!” he tweeted shortly after the vote.

Little’s Leading Idaho Plan, announced in January, is its plan to return Idaho’s $1.9 billion budget surplus to Idaho residents in the form of tax cuts and investments. The plan also includes federal coronavirus relief funds.

Money approved for the Medicare plan would first have to go through the Legislature’s budget-setting committee and then be approved by the House and Senate.

It is possible that some school districts will stay with their insurers, if they are competitive, or switch to the state plan.

According to the legislation, any money contributed to the fund cannot be spent before July 1 or after June 30, 2024, giving school districts a two-year window to make a decision.

Any money left in the dedicated fund when it expires would go to the public education stabilization fund or, if full, to the state’s general fund.

The National Education Association estimated that for the 2019-20 school year, the national average teacher salary was $65,000.

Idaho ranked 39th with an average salary of just under $53,000 and 35th in average starting salary at $38,000.