When Idaho lawmakers approved a $ 105 million increase in funding for school health insurance earlier this year, they hoped it would increase pay for thousands of teachers across the state.
This move provided a nearly 50% increase in state support for school health insurance costs. That’s an average of about $ 4,100 per teacher and classified employee.
At the same time, the legislature approved a separate pool of $ 75.5 million in money to cover one-time purchase costs for areas that wanted to move from private insurers to the state’s self-financing insurance plan.
The idea behind it all was to help areas provide health plans that have better benefits, lower premiums, and lower out-of-pocket costs.
“Most teachers currently have a deduction of $ 1,000 to $ 3,000 and pay $ 600 to $ 1,500 a month in bonuses (for family plans),” said Rod-Fernis, a spokesman for R-Rigby, during a debate on the proposal on January 24. “Some teachers and staff write a check back to their school at the end of the month to pay their health insurance. I think we can do better than that. “
Six months later, the jury still does not know whether lawmakers have achieved this goal.
In north-central Idaho, for example, some school staff will see a significant reduction in their health care costs. Others may see gradual improvements, but not the expected results that “change the game.”
Cottonwood School District can be an example of what the legislature hoped to achieve.
Superintendent John Raeder said the area would switch from its private insurer to the state health plan in September.
“It was pointless for us,” he said. “Family plan premiums are currently $ 634 per month. The new premiums are $ 327 per month, so they are halved. And self-participation is much better; that’s $ 350, versus $ 750 under our current plan.
Raeder and the area’s business manager spent weeks checking the numbers to make sure they survived.
“Once you move to the state plan, you stay there for five years, so we wanted to make sure that this move is financially sustainable for the area and beneficial for our staff,” he said. “We spent six or seven weeks calling, emailing, asking ‘what if.’ I would go to bed thinking about the numbers.
Cottonwood was one of the first districts in the state to switch to the state plan.
However, each region has to make its own unique analysis – and for some the numbers just don’t work.
“The move to the state plan was impossible for us, even with the extra funding,” said Lanson School District Chief Lance Hansen. “We had an increase of about $ 1.5 million and we were still $ 1.8 million less than the price of the state plan.
The Moscow school district will not make a final decision until August, but Superintendent Greg Bailey said he would probably wait to see if the legislature would make further changes next year.
“We currently have a good insurance program,” he said. “It would be very expensive to move to the state plan. I guess we may not move this year. We have two years to make a decision. “
One problem that is preventing many districts from making the change is that $ 105 million has been allocated based on support units, which are the standard proxy for the number of classrooms in a school.
Each support unit provides funding for a teacher and a number of classified staff. However, many districts employ more people than are compensated by the state funding formula.
Hansen said that when the formula was last modified in the 1990s, it did not address things like IT staff or other critical positions.
“When you look at what is needed to provide educational services today, the formula doesn’t even come close,” he said.
Therefore, districts that have an actual number of staff in excess of those provided in the support unit formula must come out with local funds to pay for these positions.
The same goes for health insurance costs. Moscow, for example, expects to receive about $ 2.1 million in government funding next year for employee health care. However, this is about $ 1.1 million less than the expected price. And moving to a state plan would cost even more.
Business manager Jennifer Johnson said the extra government money was useful, but it only went that far.
“We have about 330 members who are eligible for benefits, and we are funded for only 108.58,” she said.
The districts must decide by Friday whether they want to move to the state health plan this year. As of Wednesday, 26 districts with about 5,300 employees had registered to make the change.
The added state funding must also lead to some level of improvement, even in areas that do not join the state plan.
“The counties I’ve heard from get better policies, lower co-payments, or cover more of the premium,” said Quinn Perry, director of policy and state affairs at the Idaho School Board Association. “I know the money is well received. The districts believe that this is an investment that will be transferred to the local level. “
Representative Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who sponsors legislation allowing the districts to join the state plan, said that has always been her main goal.
“For those (legislators) who expected all school districts to move to the state plan, this did not happen,” she said. “But for those of us who were committed to this investment because we thought it would improve the quality, cost and benefits of school health insurance, I think it works well.”