Insurance

Partisan McCleary solution passes Senate

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:

 

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Health insurance data – why stop before the problem is fixed

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…

 

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First day of session – busy, somewhat productive day

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:

 

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Latest Supreme Court Update

In early October, the Supreme Court issued its most recent order regarding the McCleary basic education funding lawsuit.

The Court decided that the Legislature has until September 1, 2018, to fully fund basic education from “dependable and regular revenue sources.” This is code-word for not paying for salaries and benefits from local levies. Meanwhile, the $100,000 per day fine continues for another year. You can read more about the order here.

For obvious reasons, the legislature has delayed making the most difficult decisions until the last moment: the 2017 legislative session. Though much of the legislative debate will be about certificated employee salaries and local funding, our salaries and benefits will be directly linked to that debate.

It’s time for us to stand together and get ready to raise our voices about the importance of our salaries and benefits. The legislature’s attempts to address the most difficult aspects of basic education funding will be a vital time for us all to get involved in PSE’s advocacy efforts.

A great place to start is by attending Legislative Conference. It’s an incredible weekend where you’ll network with fellow PSE members, learn how laws are made, how to talk to legislators, and how you can have your voice heard in Olympia.

As always, email action@pseofwa.org with questions, and text “PSE” to 787753 to receive legislative alerts throughout the session straight to your device. Standard message and data rates may apply.

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It’s time for Open Enrollment.

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.

Preferred Providers

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!

Sincerely,

CharlotteShindlerHeadshotPresident

 

 

 

 

Charlotte Shindler
PSE State President
Paraeducator, Rosalia School District

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Life Insurance Enrollment Reminder

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.

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Budget agreement announced

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:

  • Retiree carveout payment to go down $0.86 to $64.39 (in last year’s budget it was set to go up to $70.45).
  • $18 million to maintain state need grant funding (tuition assistance for low income higher education students).
  • $8 million for tuition backfill at public colleges and universities ($176,000 for Central Washington University, $566,000 for Eastern Washington University, $2,068,000 for Washington State University, and $802,000 for Western Washington University).

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:

  • Special Education program,
  • Learning Assistance Program (LAP),
  • English Learners program,
  • Basic Education program (but only those paraeducators who work in the classroom),
  • Vocational program,
  • Middle School Career and Tech Education program,
  • Skills Centers,
  • Special and Pilot Programs.
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Budget proposals on the move

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.

HOUSE BUDGET

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.

 

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First budget looks good

Yesterday afternoon, House democrats published and took testimony on their supplemental budget.  As a reminder, supplemental budgets are usually small adjustments to the 2 year budget approved last year.  There were three changes that we liked:

  •  An additional 1% salary increase for classified employees
  • $3 million for paraeducator professional development to be used in the 2016-17 school year
  • $6.06 reduction in the retiree carveout (reduced to $64.39).

I testified in support of these budget changes.

As I have pointed out earlier, we support the salary increase and the tax increases (loophole closures) that the increases rely upon.

The paraeducator professional development was a complete surprise and is certainly a welcome response to our advocacy for paraeducators.  However, it shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for the passage this year of our bill to put together a permanent structure of paraeducator training and standards.

 

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2016 Session – Big Issues and Little Time

The 2016 Session begins after one last relaxing weekend – then the fun begins.  On Monday, January 11, the 2016 legislation begins with a deadline for completion within 60 days (March 11).  There are at least two big issues that directly affect education funding that we hope they resolve:

1. Initiative 1366 passed in November with a 51.5% approval margin.  It requires the legislature send a constitutional amendment requiring a 2/3 vote on any tax increase to the voters.  If they don’t do that, sales tax will be reduced 1% which will reduce state funding by $1.4 billion.  What would be cut would be so painful that I hope we don’t have to consider but it is staring us in the face.  Many legislators are hoping the courts will declare 1366 unconstitutional and with one action take care of the problem.  Unfortunately, with the short session and the potential delays of trial proceedings, the judicial system may not have a timely solution.  Could this mean a special session?  Likely.

2. The Supreme Court $100,000 per day penalty against the legislature for not coming up with a plan to fund basic education continues to be an irritant that encourages the legislature to find a solution.  The problem that is the key stumbling block is how much the state relies upon school districts and local levies to fund basic education.  This is so complicated that I doubt there will be much coming out of this legislature other than a plan to get legislators together after the session to come up with a plan.  Is that kicking the can down the road?  Yes.  Can they kick the can down the road like this?  Yes, they have been doing that for the last 40 years.

PSE will also be working hard to pass our paraeducator development bill, E2SSB 5179 this year.  We came close last year and hope that this year will have a different conclusion.  But first we will be amending the bill to include special and general education paraeducators.  We continue to advocate that all paraeducators need to meet the new standards and that the state, school districts, and paraeducators, will participate in funding participation in the development program.  Because of paraeducator low wages, we will be asking the state and school districts to minimize the financial impact on paraeducators.

Another issue that will get some attention but not enough to make it through this session is the subject of K 12 insurance consolidation.  As you know, PSE fought hard to pass ESSB 5940 in 2012.  This bill was based on the premise that school districts would get three years to improve the delivery of health insurance, especially to families.  While there has been some improvement, there is still a long way to go.  Will that be enough for the legislature to push through significant changes in this session? I don’t think so but I do think there will be some effort to make some changes to the delivery of K 12 health insurance.

One other education issue that may slow things down are charter schools. The Supreme Court ruling they were unconstitutional will lead to a great deal of debate.  A bi-partisan solution appears to be developing but it is too early to tell if it has legs to make it through the entire session.

So where’s the money going in this session?  Well, to put it bluntly there isn’t any (unless there is a tax increase – unlikely and political suicide).  There has been a slight improvement in state revenue ($248 million) but the extremely bad fire season eats up nearly all of that new revenue (something like $150 million over what was budgeted).  For education, this is a status quo budget year.  As long as we maintain what we got last year – nearly $2 billion – we aren’t expecting salary or insurance increase funding.

That’s it for now.  At the end of each session, I always look forward to looking back at this preliminary outlook of the session to see how close I was to what really happened.

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