As the Republican lead on the House State Government Finance & Veterans Affairs Committee, I’ve been closely following a bill moving its way through the Minnesota House that we’ve seen before. House File 573 is known as the Public Employee Insurance Plan (PEIP or “peep”) requirement bill and would mandate public school employees buy their health insurance through a statewide employee pool that already exists. We’ve seen this bill every year for several years as the state’s largest teachers union brings it forward. The stated goal is to have more bargaining power and reach lower premiums for teachers and school staff, but there are many downsides to this idea that have prevented it from moving forward in the past. Those issues still remain, but the political will to pass the bill is now accumulating in St. Paul.
Forest Lake and other large school districts could see negative impacts from this bill for years to come. With many employees in their coverage pool already, Forest Lake and other area school leaders have approached me with concerns for the proposal because they currently negotiate health insurance rates in cooperation with other districts or on their own. If thousands of school employees from other parts of Minnesota join this main state pool, it will weaken the ability of remaining schools to strike fair rates for their teachers and staff. This would take more money out of the classroom and place it in the hands of insurance companies.
The bill is also dangerous because it would lock-in districts; once you agree to be in the statewide pool, you’re in it forever.
HF 573 is also dangerous for cities and counties because the loss of schools in cooperative insurance pools could force them out of the market and throw public employees into more expensive coverage at the cost of hardworking taxpayers. Smaller cities depend on these cooperatives to obtain affordable insurance for their employees and have very few good alternatives, according to the League of Minnesota Cities.
Instead, smaller communities looking for lower rates could access the newly created state Health Insurance Exchange which taxpayers will be paying millions to operate annually. This was brought to Minnesota by Governor Dayton through President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and is supposed to provide coverage for those that can’t afford it through a new multi-million dollar agency in St. Paul.
This bill is not just about lower rates, but more centralized state control of school employees. I believe local school boards should make decisions about insurance for their employees, not the Minnesota Management and Budget Office. Our area school districts and local governments could feel the pinch if this deal moves forward.
Rep. Bob Dettmer is a fourth-term legislator from Forest Lake and serves on the House Ways & Means, State Government Finance & Veterans Affairs, and Capital Investment Committees.