When the Idaho Legislature and Governor Brad Little teamed up to provide $105 million in additional funding to supplement health insurance costs for Idaho school districts, many hailed it as a “game changer.” game” that would allow districts to join the state insurance plan with its relatively low premiums.
But as of this month, only 20% of Idaho school districts have joined the state’s plan. Why so?
Recently, we visited six district leaders to find out why. We met with administrators from two small, rural districts (Cambridge and Midvale), one medium-sized district (Weiser), and the three largest districts in Idaho (Boise, Nampa, and West Ada).
Of the six, only Nampa will join the state plan. Nampa will use federal funds from ARPA to manage the $600,000 shortfall it will face to fund the program. Nampa officials said the main selling points for the district will be greater predictability and stability in staff coverage and improved benefits. Like most districts, Nampa has struggled with rising annual insurance costs and volatile insurance rates.
For the other five districts, the ongoing costs of joining the state plan were just too high. The main reason ? The state calculated the monetary distribution for the insurance (plus an additional $4,000 per employee) based on the number of state-funded employees and the amount allocated to each position.
But most districts hire After classified employees (bus drivers, special education aides, guards, catering workers, etc.), which are publicly funded, as well as federally funded positions (i.e. say special education teachers and certified and classified staff who work with migrants and English speakers). learners). In addition, several employees (corporate managers, technology specialists, human resources officers, etc.) employed by the districts are necessarily paid at a rate higher than the $26,000 that the state allocates by these classified positions, which resulting in a reduction in the number of positions. the state actually funds.
As a result, most Idaho districts have opted to use the new funds to improve the health insurance plans they currently offer their employees rather than join the state insurance plan. which would have required districts to dip deep into their discretionary funds now and in the future.. Fortunately, state officials have given these new funds flexibility so districts can offer local solutions and enhanced health insurance plans.
West Ada District, the largest in Idaho, was able to significantly reduce employee family insurance premiums, saving employees with family coverage up to $6,156 per year . Weiser increased the district’s contribution to employee insurance by almost 50% and cut the family insurance deductible in half. Similarly, Cambridge and Midvale improved existing plan components for their employees, and Boise was able to reduce family premiums by up to 40%.
The governor’s commitment to local control, favored by a large majority of Idaho voters, was well served by the passage of the insurance bills by the Legislative Assembly. Local solutions have been implemented to address local issues, which look very different in Cambridge than in Boise.
The process of implementing the legislation has highlighted issues related to staffing and salaries of classified personnel. Each school district in the state hires more (sometimes double) the staff allocated by the state and pays significantly more for certain positions than the allocation calls for. Additionally, each district manager indicated that they had to raise hourly wages to compete for these employees. These issues must be addressed in the next legislative sessions.
Educators are grateful for the Governor’s and Legislature’s commitment to reducing insurance costs and improving employee deductibles and copayments, as well as other health care expenses. We understand this is a substantial ongoing commitment to employees and their families.
Our hope for the future is that with a record budget surplus, additional steps will be taken to strengthen and consolidate the initial investment in life-saving insurance assistance.
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