by Timothy McQuiston Vermont Business Magazine The Scott Administration is bristling at a suggestion made earlier this week by Vermont's largest union that the state implement a single statewide health insurance contract for all public school employees (see outline of proposal below). A year ago, Governor Phil Scott advocated for a statewide teacher health insurance plan to save money and equalize benefits. The teachers' union rebuffed such a plan and Democratic leadership opposed it. The standoff led to a budget veto and ultimately a compromise that did not include a statewide plan. Today Susanne Young, Secretary of Administration, issued the following statement on the Vermont NEA’s proposal to move to a statewide health benefit.
Young: “Last year, the Governor advocated for a statewide health benefit for school employees, which would have met the principles highlighted in the Vermont NEA’s press release by offering comprehensive, affordable and equitable health care benefits for employees while achieving tens of millions in savings for taxpayers and school employees alike.
In this screen shot, Governor Scott speaks during the budget signing ceremony at the State House June 28, 2017, after a compromise was reached following his veto. Susanne Young is to his far right. Click for video.
“The ‘broken public school employee health insurance system’ referenced by the Vermont NEA is the direct result of the fragmented and widely disparate cost-sharing arrangements that would have been addressed by a uniform benefit as proposed by the Governor last session and by the Vermont Educational Health Benefit Commission in its December 2018 report to the Legislature. Regrettably, the Vermont NEA opposed every effort to make progress, yet now, admits that a standard statewide benefit that is comprehensive, affordable, and equitable has real benefits for their members.
“The Governor’s proposal did not come to fruition, in part, because of pointed pushback by the Vermont NEA and Democratic lawmakers last year over the sanctity of collective bargaining between employees and employers – a construct the Vermont NEA apparently no longer feels is crucial.
“Today, there is an approximate $40 million gap between education fund revenues and expenses; some of which could have been mitigated through the policies brought forward by the Governor last year.
“It’s disappointing for the union to come to the table a year later, in the wake of mounting fiscal pressure on school employees’ health benefits, after eroding the opportunity to chart a course that would balance strong benefits for employees with the public cost to taxpayers.
“Furthermore, it’s telling that the proposal from the union comes on the heels of a 16.8 percent rate increase for the school employees’ insurance group and clear evidence that this rate increase is the direct result of local settlements above and beyond the benefit level outlined as a compromise in the 2017 appropriations bill.
“Nonetheless, the Governor is open to working with the Vermont NEA on a path forward. But given the Vermont NEA proposal contains few details, and it is critical we address this issue this legislative session, we’d hope the Vermont NEA will demonstrate their willingness to work together by supporting the current proposal to put the cost-sharing arrangements recommended in the 2017 budget for the current VEHI plans into statute for all school employee contracts opening next summer until this commission can arrive at a consensus path forward.
“To level the playing field for the plans struck last year, we must reset to a uniform standard and take that time to establish the statewide mechanism after which school districts can negotiate with employees.”
Vermont-NEA Health Commission Proposal
• Creation of an independent commission to formulate and administer health insurance benefits for all public school employees. To ensure fair representation, foster collaboration, and build a broad-based labor management alliance dedicated to improving the health of school employees and lowering costs, the commission will be comprised of an equal number of members appointed by both the teachers ‘union and by the governor.
• The commission will design and administer a single insurance plan for all public school employees, ensuring fairness and equity across school districts statewide.
• The commission will set premium and out-of-pocket costs that will apply to all school districts, making the same benefit available to all employees regardless of school district.
• With this proposal, local school districts and unions will no longer bargain over health insurance; however, all other parts of collective bargaining will remain unaffected by this commission.
• This proposal will ensure that health insurance benefits and cost sharing are developed with the equal input of labor and management, in a way that a statewide bargaining scheme will not.
• The proposal satisfies the concerns raised by the VSBA and VSA during the deliberations of the Act 85 Commission, namely the desire for one plan available to all employees in every school district.
• This proposal calls for structuring out-of-pocket costs for school employees based on income sensitivity and strives to ensure equal access for all with a uniform insurance plan that address affordability.
• A health care reform council will be an integral part of the commission to examine and implement systemic strategies to improve the quality and coordination of health care for all Vermont school employees, expand affordable access to care, reduce the overall cost of health insurance, and make health outcomes for Vermont school employees better.