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Statewide school district pool

Published (3/13/2009)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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Two vetoes in the previous two years haven’t stopped advocates of a school employee statewide health insurance pool from putting the proposal back on the table.

Rep. Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph) sponsors HF866 that would mandate school districts to obtain employee health coverage through the state public employees insurance program.

Close votes on several amendments March 10 by the House Commerce and Labor Committee exemplified how the issue crosses party and geographical lines.

Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth) and Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) were among those objecting to mandated district participation. Anderson and Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to exclude the school districts they represent.

Paul Bourgeois, executive director of finance and operations for the Minnetonka School District, which is self-insured and has been able to contain premium costs. He said participation in a state program would increase costs to teachers. “There are models out there that work, and by shoehorning us into a model, we feel we won’t be able to exercise our ability to manage our care.”

However, Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) said many rural districts are having trouble containing health care costs because their employee insurance pool is not large enough.

“We hear a lot about Minnetonka, Wayzata, St. Paul, but the people from North Kooch and Lake of the Woods aren’t here. Those teachers and students are important too,” he said.

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said that, based on research, voluntary pools fail and mandatory pools succeed because of the greater numbers of employees participating.

“Health care costs are creating a huge burden on school districts and employees,” he said. “Some school employees actually write a check to the school district every two weeks to come to work, because the cost (of health insurance) exceeds their salary.”

The bill was approved 9-7 and referred to the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee. Its companion, SF915, sponsored by Sen. D. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division.

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