Statewide Health Insurance Pool Legislation Hits Committee (Yet again). I have a cousin whose favorite saying is "If it's not one thing, it's the same darn thing." He usually utters that line with a bit of gusto and more colorful language (delete "darn," insert "#%*$%#+#"), but his assessment is pretty much on the mark when it comes to the proposal calling for the creation of a statewide insurance pool for school employees. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano or pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. every February or March, the mandatory statewide health insurance pool seems to finds its way into the legislative lexicon. With Republican control of the Legislature the past two years, the bill never really surfaced, but with the change in the legislative majorities, the proposal is back on the radar in the form of SF 446 (Dibble)/HF 573 (John Ward) and was heard today in the Senate Commerce Committee.
As introduced, the bill would require all districts except those that are self-insured and insuring more than 1,000 employees would be forced to participate in the Public Employee Insurance Program (PEIP). Currently, employee groups can opt into PEIP without the approval of the management side of the bargaining process at the local level. In its original form, SF 446/HF 573 would flip the process over. Instead of being allowed to "opt in," districts would be forced to "opt out" with both labor and management needing to agree to either buy insurance in the open market or self-insure. Further, districts would be able to access the premium reserves that have been built up by the service cooperatives currently selling insurance. Amendments offered and approved in committee this afternoon changed the landscape considerably, making participation in PEIP voluntary and not mandatory and also allowing the service cooperatives to retain their reserves.
A number of SEE members testified in opposition to the bill, including personnel from Elk River ISD #728, St. Francis ISD #15, Albert Lea ISD #241, and Prior Lake-Savage ISD #719. Each made it crystal clear that the bill as introduced would limit school district choice and, as a result, drive up insurance premium prices due to lack of competition. The testimony was powerful and really helped lay the groundwork for the adoption of the two amendments that make the bill much more palatable.
The bill now moves on to the Senate State and Local Government Committee, where it will likely be heard later this week or early next week. The key thing for SEE membership to do at this point is to contact their legislators and tell them to support the amendments attached to the bill in the Senate Commerce Committee.