Washington State looks at school health care system reform

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A report issued this week by Washington state auditor Brian Sonntag, laid bare inefficient and costly practices within the health insurance system covering 100,000 of the state’s public school employees.

Among the highlights of the report were the existence of over 1,000 pools of money to underwrite over 200 plans, offered through 10 different insurance companies. Last year, the total cost of providing health care to participants exceeded $1.2 billion, of which 64 percent was covered by the state, and the remaining 36 percent, by local districts and employees.

The auditor’s officers said that the tangled system should be streamlined and standardized to make it simpler, and to save millions of dollars annually. A consolidated system would be more efficient, saving administrative costs and making the system more transparent.

A spokeswoman for the Public School Employees of Washington, a 26,000 member union representing school support workers, said that the system is unfair, and that while the state picks up the cost of health insurance for other state part-time employees, school employees working part-time must pay a pro-rated share of their health care premiums.

“We’ve been asking lawmakers to look at this for years,” said Rick Chisa, adding that many state bus drivers, cafeteria workers and teacher aides are struggling.

Besides streamlining the existing system, the Sonntag offered two other options.

One would involve standardizing coverage throughout the system and letting employees choose coverage that would be appropriate for them.

Another option would involve an entire restructuring of the existing system, and create a state governing board to oversee its operation.

Information from: Seattle Times

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