The jury is out yet on a new insurance plan for Idaho schools – InsuranceNewsNet
June 30 – When Idaho lawmakers approved a $105 million increase in school health insurance funding earlier this year, they hoped it would boost take-home pay for thousands of teachers across the state .
This decision led to an increase of almost 50% in state support for the costs of school health insurance. It averaged about $4,100 per teacher and classified staff member.
At the same time, the Legislature approved a separate $75.5 million fund to cover one-time purchase costs for districts wishing to transition from private insurers to the state’s self-funded insurance plan.
The idea behind it all was to help districts get health plans with better benefits, lower premiums, and lower out-of-pocket costs.
“Most teachers currently have deductibles of $1,000 to $3,000 and pay $600 to $1,500 a month in premiums (for family plans),” Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, said during the interview. a floor debate on January 24 on the proposal. “Some teachers and staff write a check at the end of the month to their school, to pay for health insurance. I think we can do better than that.”
Six months later, the jury is still out on whether lawmakers achieved that goal.
In north-central Idaho, for example, some school employees will see substantial decreases in their health care costs. Others may see incremental improvements, but not the “game-changing” results that were anticipated.
The Cottonwood School District could be the poster child for what the Legislature hoped to accomplish.
Superintendent Jon Rehder said the district will transition from its private insurer to the state health plan in September.
“It was a no-brainer for us,” he said. “Premiums for a family plan are currently $634 per month. New premiums are $327 per month, so they’re halved. And the deductible is much better; it’s $350, compared to $750 in as part of our current package.”
Rehder and the district’s business manager spent weeks checking the numbers, making sure they would hold up.
“Once you move to the state plan, you’re stuck there for five years, so we wanted to make sure the move was financially viable for the district and beneficial for our staff,” he said. “We spent six or seven weeks making calls, sending emails, asking ‘what if’. I would go to bed thinking about the numbers.”
Cottonwood was one of the first districts in the state to transition to the state plan.
Each district, however, has to do its own unique analysis — and for some, the numbers just don’t work.
“Switching to the state plan was prohibitively expensive for us, even with the additional funding,” Lewiston School District Superintendent Lance Hansen said. “We had an increase of about $1.5 million, and we were still $1.8 million below the cost of the state plan.”
The Moscow School District won’t make a final decision until August, but Superintendent Greg Bailey said he’ll likely wait to see if the legislature makes any further changes this year.
“We have a good insurance program right now,” he said. “It would be very expensive to move to the state plan. I guess we might not move this year. We have two years to decide.”
A problem preventing many districts from making the switch is that the $105 million was distributed based on support units, which are a standard indicator of the number of classrooms in a school.
Each support unit finances a teacher and sets a number of classified personnel. Many districts, however, are hiring more people than they are paid under the state funding formula.
Hansen said when the formula was last changed in the 1990s, it didn’t address things like IT staff or other critical positions.
“When you look at what is needed to deliver education services today, the formula doesn’t even come close,” he said.
Therefore, districts that have actual staffing levels greater than what is provided by the support unit formula must find local funds to pay for these positions.
The same is true for health insurance costs. Moscow, for example, plans to secure about $2.1 million in public funding next year for employee health care coverage. However, this is approximately $1.1 million less than the projected cost. And upgrading to the state plan would cost even more.
Business manager Jennifer Johnson said the extra state money was helpful, but it doesn’t go any further.
“We have about 330 members eligible for benefits, and we’re only funded for 108.58,” she said.
Districts must decide by Friday whether they want to transition to the state health plan this year. As of Wednesday, 26 districts with about 5,300 employees had signed up to make the change.
The additional state funding should also lead to some level of improvement, even in districts that do not join the state plan.
“Districts I’ve heard of are getting better policies, lower co-payments, or they’re covering more of the premium,” said Quinn Perry, director of policy and government affairs for the Idaho School Boards Association. . “I know the money has been well received. The districts feel it’s an investment that will translate to the local level.”
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who co-sponsored the legislation allowing districts to join the state’s plan, said that has always been her primary goal.
“For those (legislators) who expected all school districts to follow the state plan, it didn’t work,” she said. “But for those of us who committed to this investment because we thought it would improve the quality, cost and benefits of school health insurance, I think it’s working very well.”
Spence can be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 791-9168.
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