I was unable to testify at last Monday’s House Appropriations committee hearing on HB 1843/SB 5607 because I was snowed in. Below is what I sent to committee members after the hearing which captures what I would have said on behalf of PSE’s 30,000 classified employees had I been at the hearing:
PSE signed in support of both bills because each of them have positive impacts on classified school employees.
What we like in 1843:
• Increasing the classified employee salary allocation
• Professional development for classified employees
What we would like to see changed in 1843:
• Change the classified employee basic education funding formula so that the state, not local levies, are paying for 5,000 classified employee FTEs (see this chart).
• Change levy system to promote levy equity
What we like in 5607:
• The state will be fully funding classified employee services (5,000 FTE are currently funded by local levies)
• Implementing a comprehensive paraeducator development program
• More flexibility to hire paraeducators as teachers
• Housing allowance includes classified employees
• Implements the 3:1 insurance payment ratio so that employees with families pay $3 for every $1 a single employee pays
• Levy changes that promote levy equity
What we would like to see changed in 5607:
• 3 year implementation of 3:1 insurance ratio so that in the first year it would be 5:1, second year, 4:1, and third year, 3:1.
• Use the Seattle CPI (consumer price index) as the inflation index rather than the National IPD (implicit price deflator).
• Include an insurance inflation factor that reflect premium increases.
• The requirement that school expenses for compensation not go beyond 80% will harm classified employees since teachers will consume whatever capacity school districts have to spend money. Change this so that classified employees are not left out of staffing, salary, or benefit capacity.
Yesterday, the Appropriations committee voted 1843 out of committee on a partisan vote of 18-15.
PSE is committed to finding affordable insurance for all school employees, especially the classified employees we represent and their families. With that goal in mind, we have worked with Senators Steve Hobbs, Ann Rivers, Mark Mullet, Guy Palumbo, Dean Takko, and Karen Keiser to introduce two bills, SB 5726 and SB 5727. Big picture view of the two bills is that 5726 is significant change with substantial cost ($200 million per year) to the state and employers and $21 million less for employees, 5727 is smaller in its reach and comes at no cost to employers but with cost shifting for employees. First, I’ll explain the easy bill.
5727 requires that K 12 insurance premiums be structured so that an employee who has full family insurance will pay $5 for every $1 that an employee with single only coverage in the 2018-19 school year, $4 for every $1 in the 2019-20 school year, and $3 for every $1 in the 2020-21 school year. To make this happen, insurance pooling dollars must first be used to maintain the appropriate ratio.
On the other hand, 5726 requires much more explanation. 5726 would move all K 12 employees into the PEBB insurance plans. This dramatic change to the insurance options available to school employees has numerous benefits:
….”insurance parity 1″ – K 12 employees would receive the same state funded levels as state employees. Currently, full time K 12 employees receive $780 per month. Based upon current funding for state and higher education employees, we would see an increase to $888 per month.
….”insurance parity 2″ – half time employees (employees working 630 hours or more per year) would be treated the same as state employees. Currently, half time or more K 12 employees receive pro-rated insurance funding. As a result of this bill, they would receive full funding.
….”balanced out of pocket costs” – the PEBB insurance plans are developed to ensure that employees with family coverage pays no more than three times what a single employee pays.
….collective bargaining for insurance, with a couple exceptions, would occur at the state level. Instead of negotiating insurance plans, employer funding and insurance pooling at your school district, these negotiations would take place at the state level just like state and higher education employees. Imagine the bargaining strength when all of us, K 12, state and higher education employees join together to negotiate for insurance funding and payments. What are the couple of exceptions that we can continue to negotiate? We would still be able to negotiate enhancements to the PEBB provided dental, vision, group life and group long term disability plans, as well as miscellaneous insurance plans like cancer insurance, etc.
….plan year would be on a calendar year basis rather than school year. Each January, our new insurance plans would start.
….the move into PEBB will be implemented in school districts on a schedule determined by the Health Care Authority over a three year period starting January 2019.
….employees or employers no longer have to pay the retiree carveout (currently $64.39 per month per 1440 FTE) once they move into the PEBB system.
What’s important to note about the PEBB insurance plan is that 3,000 current K 12 employees and 4,000 of their dependents are on it. PSE’s higher education employees and PSE’s staff is on PEBB. Additionally, 36,000 K 12 retirees are on PEBB.
And even more important, if this bill passes, 9,000 school employees (mostly classified employees) and 30,000 of their dependents (mostly classified employee dependents) will be able to have insurance again.
In a touchy debate last night, Senate Republicans passed SB 5607, their McCleary solution, on a 25-24 vote. This close vote was expected and not surprising. What was surprising is how quickly they passed the most sweeping, some would call it “radical”, change to K 12 in decades. As dramatic as the funding changes were, the policy changes were equally dramatic. Policy changes which included prohibiting teacher strikes, clearly describing how to fire poorly performing teachers, or making it easier to hire paraeducators (and others) as teachers (as long as they are supervised by a teacher.) With the passage, they also approved the paraeducator bill, SB 5070.
While there is a great deal of data about the levy proposal and funding elements, it is also safe to say that there is considerable debate about the impacts. That shows you how complicated their solution is. Here’s the tax impact, state budget impact, funding impact by school district, funding by student, taxpayer impact, and another taxpayer impact.
What has to be noted is that the Supreme Court demanded that the State should reduce their reliance upon local levies to pay for basic education. They also noted that there is a significant problem with levy equity (rich school districts provide more funding for basic education that poor school districts). 5607 successfully solves these difficult problems.
Another issue they addressed was K 12 health insurance. The bill requires school districts to begin offering insurance benefits that require employees who need full family insurance coverage to pay $3 for each $1 an employee who signs up for employee only coverage pays. PSE prefers that they stagger this implementation over a 3 year period starting at $5:$1 in the first year, $4:$1 in the second year, and, $3:$1 in the third year.
Of further interest and equal concern is the elimination of the current funding mechanism for salaries, staffing and insurance. What I like about their proposal is they fully fund classified employee staffing ($168 million). What I don’t like is the inflation factor (National IPD) – I prefer the Seattle CPI. I also prefer that they add an insurance inflation factor in their formula. I also don’t like the 80% threshold for school districts to spend on compensation. With that in place, it will be very difficult for classified employees to negotiate improvements if districts have already given funding capacity to teachers.
Here is the debate on the Senate floor on the bill:
Yesterday afternoon, I had an opportunity to testify in the House Appropriations committee on HB 1042, a bill to stop collecting data on K 12 health insurance. Though there wasn’t much testimony on the bill, it gave me a forum to explain why this data is collected and more important, the connection to affordable health care for classified employees and their families.
Though I will include the actual testimony below, this issue has a history that goes back to 1990. The legislature passed a law in 1990 to require school districts to offer more affordable insurance to employees with families. Over the years, it became obvious that school districts were not following the law. And in 2012, PSE passed SB 5940 which among other things required school districts to provide the state insurance data so the state could see what they were or were not doing. The data is in and it is clear that school districts have done little to provide affordable insurance to all school employees, especially classified employees with families.
Though I didn’t oppose the bill, I explained that the problems are only getting worse so if they don’t get data from school districts, we will provide them anecdotes from our members.
Here’s the hearing on the bill…
Before the session began at noon, there were early fireworks at the Education Funding Task Force’s (EFTF) final meeting that very likely showed what the next several months will look like.
The scene of the fireworks was the Education Funding Task Force’s final effort to reach a bi-partisan agreement on fixing the broken K 12 funding system. After 7 months of effort, the wheels came off the cooperative spirit and no agreement was reached. Republicans refused to back the democratic plan, the democrats refused to back the republican plan. To be frank, I was not surprised since this is such a heavy lift too early in the session. The time for a final agreement will be the end of the session, not the beginning.
Appropriations committee hearing
The day ended with a public hearing on Governor Inslee’s budget proposal in the House Appropriations committee. I testified that we supported Inslee’s support for classified employee compensation, insurance funding and paraeducator training. However, PSE was concerned that since this is the year to fix K 12 funding, that he missed an opportunity to fix the classified employee staffing formula. As I pointed out, the Third Sector Intelligence, Inc., report to the EFTF in November 2016 showed that the teacher and principal staffing formula was relatively accurate yet the classified employee formula was 30% short. As a result, local levies pay for 6,000 classified employee FTE’s that should be paid by the State. I asked them to work with us to fix this problem.
Here’s my testimony:
Because PSE represents over 30,000 public school employees and their families, affordable, available health insurance is a high priority for our union. Paying careful attention to ALL the options available to you during the open enrollment period could prevent you from facing serious consequences that could raise your out-of-pocket responsibility and/or require you to change medical providers.
Rates are going up again, continuing a troubling trend over the past several years. Rising costs hit everyone hard, especially lower-wage workers. I want to call your attention to a few critical areas of our health insurance options so you can make informed decisions for yourself and your family.
If your open enrollment period has already closed, this is for information purposes only.
In addition to premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, a critical issue is the “preferred provider list.” A doctor who is “on the list” has agreed to accept the insurance company reimbursement and co-pay amounts. An “out of network provider” does not. The insurance company pays the provider a fixed amount and the additional cost is the responsibility of the patient’s family.
What is different this year is that some plans are changing their preferred provider networks. As such, hospitals, clinics, and doctors that have been participating will no longer be “on the list” after January 1, 2017.
Out of Pocket Maximums
There are annual out-of-pocket maximums that apply to the preferred provider network. After you spend this amount on deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance, your health plan pays 100% of the costs of covered benefits. The out-of-pocket limit doesn’t include your monthly premiums. It also doesn’t include anything you may spend for services your plan doesn’t cover. Going out of network is considered a “non-covered” expense. The maximum out-of-pocket limit for any 2016 marketplace plan is $6,850 for an individual plan and $13,700 for a family plan.
Get more information here.
Keep in mind, these impacts will be different for each employee. Those members with serious, ongoing health issues in their family should pay special attention during open enrollment.
PSE has been addressing the high costs of health insurance and inadequate funding for benefits with the Legislature for many years, and will be doing so again in January 2017. It is important to let your union leaders know about the kind of health care issues you are encountering.
Thank you for everything you do for our students and our public schools and universities. Have a great year!
PSE State President
Paraeducator, Rosalia School District
UPDATE 12/1/16: Due to very high enrollment volume, the Health Care Authority has extended the open enrollment period for PEBB life insurance to December 16, 2016. If you have not had the opportunity to enroll, please do so. Another opportunity like this may not come along for quite some time. For more information, click here.
UPDATE 11/16/16: Don’t forget to take advantage of a one-time opportunity to elect or increase your life insurance coverage effective 1/1/17.
Only during the month of November 2016 can current employees elect up to $500,000 in coverage (in $10,000 increments) without answering health questions or having a medical exam – even if you have previously been denied life insurance coverage. You can also elect or increase life insurance coverage for a spouse/state-registered domestic partner or children. Note: If you currently have Dependent Basic Life Insurance for your spouse, state-registered domestic partner, or child(ren), you must act in November 2016 to elect Optional Life Insurance for them for 2017 to avoid a lapse in coverage. MetLife does not offer Dependent Basic Life Insurance, so this coverage will end December 31, 2016.
You can enroll with MetLife online. Just create an account by using PEBB Benefits – State of Washington as your employer name and sign up for your optional life insurance benefits. Even if you are not enrolling in or changing life insurance amounts for 2017, you should create an online account and name your beneficiaries with MetLife. (Your beneficiary designations will not automatically transfer to MetLife).
More details can be found on the HCA website.
UPDATE 11/1/16: Open enrollment for your health and life insurance coverage begins today. Before you make your selection, make sure to fully research each plan, as several changes have been made regarding cost and coverage. Also, as previously discussed, the life insurance provider has changed, permitting every employee in PEBB the opportunity to elect/change coverage for 2017.
For more information on the changes to each plan, click here.
Open enrollment ends on November 30th.
UPDATE 9/30/16: The Health Care Labor Coalition and the State Health Care Authority held their fall quarterly meeting yesterday in Olympia. At the meeting, the 2017 PEBB rates and changes to life insurance were discussed. Click here for information on the changes made to each health insurance plan.
In addition to electing an insurance plan, all state and higher education employees will also have the opportunity to make changes to their life insurance plans during open enrollment. The HCA has changed life insurance providers effective January 1, 2017, from VOYA to MetLIfe. Due to this change, employees will have the opportunity to make elections or changes to life insurance, even those who were previously denied for coverage. This is the first such opportunity in 40 years. Click here for more information on life insurance changes and options.
Remember: open enrollment is November 1-30. Make sure you fully research each option before making an election, as several changes have been made to each plan!
For more information go to: http://www.hca.wa.gov/
UPDATE 9/9/16: The Health Care Labor Coalition and the Office of Financial Management reached a tentative agreement this morning on a successor Health Care Benefits collective bargaining agreement (2017-2019) for represented state employees.
Under the agreement, the employees’ share of health care premiums will not increase; employees will continue to pay 15% of premium costs, while the state will pay 85%.
Also, in addition to receiving the $125 wellness incentive for participating in PEBB’s Smart Health Program, employees will also receive a $25 gift certificate for participating.
It was vital to the Coalition not to agree to any language which would increase the cost share of health care to its members. With this agreement, the Coalition believes it has achieved that goal.
The agreement must be ratified by both parties and submitted to the Governor by October 1st.
UPDATE 8/3/16: Bargaining between the Health Care Labor Coalition and OFM continued this week in Olympia. The two sides traded counter-proposals, inching closer to an agreement.
The next bargaining session is scheduled for Friday, August 26th in Olympia.
PSE would like to have at least one or two members present at this session, if possible. So, if you are interested in attending, please email Jason Mackay or Zone 13 Director Tom Krabbenhoft. Per usual, PSE will be reimbursing for mileage and other travel expenses for any members who attend.
The Health Care Labor Coalition and the State of Washington began negotiations for the 2017-2019 health care collective bargaining agreement in Olympia this week.
During the session, the Coalition made clear to the State that it expected a fair and affordable insurance package for its members. To that end, the Coalition made aggressive proposals to improve the cost of insurance for state employees.
The next bargaining session is scheduled for Monday, August 1st in Olympia, where the State is expected to provide the Coalition with its next counter-proposal. As you may recall, negotiations must be completed by October 1st so the agreement can be submitted to the Governor for approval, and then to the Legislature for its approval during the 2017 legislative session.
Stay tuned for regular updates and opportunities to get involved.
Republican and democratic leaders have reached a Budget agreement that sets the stage to conclude the special session this week. One very nice surprise in the Budget agreement was $1.75 million for paraeducator professional development. Other positives are:
Back to the paraeducator funding for professional development…here’s what the Budget says:
$1,750,000 is provided solely for professional development for state-funded classroom paraeducators. Training must be provided in the 2016-17 school year.
Please note there isn’t a further clarification (and there is unlikely to be one) what is a state-funded classroom paraeducator. My assumption is this is a paraeducator who works in the following state -funded programs:
The Senate supplemental budget release an hour ago will be followed by a Ways and Means committee hearing today at 3:30. Though there isn’t an additional salary increase in the budget, it did have two positive changes that I will testify in support of.
First, it fully funds PSE’s paraeducator bill, SB 6408 with $907,000 in state funds for the first year of the bill’s implementation. We are particularly proud that it was one of the few new investments in K 12 education.
Second, it matches up with the House’s budget by reducing the retiree carveout payment $6.06 (to $64.39).
I expect the Senate budget to be approved by the committee tomorrow and head to the floor for a Senate vote by Friday.
The House budget was approved last night by the Appropriations committee on a party line vote of 18-15. I expect it will be voted off the House floor by Friday.
Once both budgets are approved by their respective body, the Budget negotiators will go behind closed doors and see if they can come up with an agreement.