Idaho House passes teachers’ health insurance bill

Rep. Rod Furniss says there’s a “significant gap” between what the state spends per year on health insurance for state employees and what it provides for teachers.

BOISE, Idaho — Major legislation to bring health care coverage for school district employees to the same level as state employees passed the Idaho House Monday on a 55-14 vote , after an hour of extremely positive debate.

“You know, 16 years ago I ran for the Legislative Assembly, and before I ran I never checked how much they were paying us or what the benefits were,” Rep. John Vander Woude said. , R-Nampa, in the House. “I was surprised when I came here to get health care for $125 a month. It really was a big plus that I never thought existed. And I made the assumption that teachers also have to be on that state plan and have the same benefits that we have. But they don’t, he says.

Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, the bill’s lead sponsor, said he’s been working on the bill for four years and has attended at least 100 meetings about it. He said there was “a significant gap” between what the state spends per year on health insurance for state employees — including lawmakers — and what it provides for teachers. “We pay $12,500 for state employee health insurance and $8,400 for teachers,” he said. “For a decade we’ve tried to bring this to where the state employees are, we just haven’t been able to do it or don’t have the resources to do it. There’s had many challenges. … It was difficult for the teachers.

The change will come at a steep price: $105 million per year, plus a one-time subscription fee of up to $75.5 million. The bill, HB 443, sets up the fund, though lawmakers will still have to vote on an appropriations bill. It also repeals an existing program that provides leadership bonuses to teachers who take on extra duties that now costs more than $19.7 million a year to partially offset the cost.

House Education chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, who originally spearheaded leadership bonus legislation, said: “While I like it, I think the compromise here… is so much better.”

School district employees, including teachers and classified staff like cafeteria workers and bus drivers, now pay up to $1,500 a month for health insurance with a deductible of up to $5,000, a said Furniss, an insurance agent. Some lower-paid workers end up having to write a check to the school district for their insurance each month because the premiums exceed what they earn.

“I think we can do better,” he said.

The bill is now moving to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved by a Senate committee and passed by the full House to reach the governor’s office. Gov. Brad Little championed the change in his state-of-the-state message to lawmakers this year.

Only Representatives Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, and Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, spoke against it during the House debate. Nate raised technical questions about the tax memo and at one point was reprimanded after suggesting his opposition would be used as a “soundbite for the next campaign”.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said she checked with the state’s Division of Financial Management about the tax memo and was told that a bill like HB 443, which creates a fund but does not allocate money to it, has zero tax implications. Supporters of the bill, including co-sponsoring Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said it would be up to the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee to vote on funding, and that the House would also get a vote on this.

Treasure Valley reps overwhelmingly supported the bill, but three — Reps. Greg Ferch, R-Boise; Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton; and Joe Palmer, R-Meridian — voted against. None of the three said why.

The bill would allow school districts to join the state employee health insurance plan or use the increased funding to negotiate better coverage with other insurers.

Among the many House members who spoke in favor of the legislation was Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, who said: “As a 32-year-old educator, I’ll tell you it’s There has never been a more difficult time to be in education than there is right now. And it’s not just the teachers, it’s all the other staff who work there too.

Rep. Matt Bundy, R-Mountain Home, a high school teacher, said as a retired Air Force officer he came to teach as a second career and brought his cover. sickness and his pension with him. “When people hear that I’m a retired Air Force Lt. Col. and I’m teaching now, I very often hear, ‘Oh, you can afford to teach,'” he said. he declares. “I want people to be able to get into education and receive the respect, benefits and health care they deserve.”

Horman said the bill could help reduce property taxes because some districts now have to turn to additional tax levies to fund health insurance.

Boyle said: ‘I come from a rural district, as you all know, and these small rural districts have struggled mightily to try to find money to help their teachers with health insurance. This can be a huge cost. And the last thing we want is more extra levies to pay for that. So this is a chance for the state to stand up and put its money where its mouth is to really help teachers.

Scott drew several objections after claiming the bill would appear to benefit Blue Cross due to campaign donations; it currently holds the contract to administer the state’s self-funded employee health insurance scheme, but that contract is up for competition next year.

Horman told the House: ‘He’s not going to any particular insurer. … Districts will be able to take those funds, go bid.

“We heard testimonies from teachers who had to leave because their salary was insufficient to support a family,” she said. “I never believed we would solve the wage problem in this state until we solved it.”

A dozen House members from both parties spoke strongly in favor of the bill during the debate. Said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, “It’s wonderful. That’s what I came to see in this building.

This article originally appeared in Idaho Press.

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