A classroom assistant in Yelm makes $900 per month and pays $750 per month in insurance.
A school office clerk in Sultan pays $689 per month in insurance coverage for her and her husband.
A school bus driver in Camas works just 20 hours a week yet pays $730 for insurance coverage.
These are just a small sample of the many stories from classified school employees from around the state who pay astronomical health insurance rates to cover themselves and their families.
Under Senate Bill 6442, which cleared Senate Ways & Means on Wednesday afternoon, the approximately 300 insurance plans and 1,000 insurance pools for the 295 school districts throughout Washington will be consolidated into one. This will create savings through greatly reduced administrative costs.
The bill is part of the Senate Democrats’ reform agenda.
“This bill is about fairness and it’s about transparency,” said Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, the bill’s prime sponsor. “There are literally hundreds if not thousands of stories about school employees paying indefensible amounts in health care premiums – that must be fixed.
“Taxpayers contribute nearly $1 billion every biennium on the purchase of insurance benefits. This is an enormous investment that deserves efficient management and oversight, but the lack of transparency prevents this.”
“For years the legislature has asked for information on how school districts are spending these appropriated funds. Some have been forthcoming, others have not.”
The current system for classified K-12 workers favors individual coverage over family coverage, which can run upwards of $1,300 per month. Many public school employees – such as bus drivers, janitors, para-educators and lunch room workers – spend more than half their salaries on health insurance coverage. Without reform, these rates will only get worse with 10 percent health insurance inflation expected over the next two years.
Ken Flournoy and his wife Nicole have been employed by the Bethel School District for six years. In 2010, after 14 years away, Ken re-enlisted in the National Guard in order to provide full medical coverage for Nicole and their two kids, one of whom has special needs.
“In this day and age, a family can’t go without insurance,” Ken Flournoy said. “But every year we’ve watched our premiums go up. There comes a point when you have to choose between cutting out the necessities or paying for insurance. That’s a decision no family should have to make.”
The State Auditor and Health Care Authority estimate that a consolidated system could save tens of millions of dollars per year. A similar plan implemented in Oregon three years ago has saved $150 million.