Benefits still better for government union workers than for private sector workers
Nine months after Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill that mandated public sector employees pay 20 percent of their health care costs, a report from the Michigan Department of Education shows how reluctant public schools and charter schools are to make their employees pay more.
To get an extra $100 per student, school districts had to meet four of five "best practices" the state put forward. Yet 358 of the 714 qualifying districts chose to not meet the best practice of having employees pay at least 10 percent of their health care costs.
By contrast, private sector workers pay 20 percent or more for their health care costs.
A 2009 survey of every school district showed that teachers contributed just 4 percent on average to the cost of their health insurance premiums. In 300 districts, teachers paid nothing.
Some districts signed contracts that extended into 2012 and 2013 so getting employees to pay more would have required re-negotiations.
Harrison Public Schools, for example, had a contract from 2007-2011 where the district paid 100 percent of its teachers' health care costs. Although the contract expired in 2011, Superintendent Tom House said a new contract has not yet been reached. House said the district has decided to enact the "hard caps" option, which are set costs districts cannot exceed on health care. House said the hard caps will become effective July 1. The hard cap for a single employee is $5,500, $11,000 for an employee and spouse and $15,000 for a family plan.
Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, estimated that a district going from paying 100 percent of its health care premiums to 80 percent could save about $100 per pupil.
Amanda Fisher, assistant state director of the Michigan chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said it is "unheard of" for people in the private sector to pay less than 10 percent of their health care premiums.
Fisher said that about half of the schools deciding not to address health care costs shows how badly a law was needed to mandate it.
"That is exactly why it had to be a law," Fisher said.
It also cast doubts on public school union claims that Snyder's cuts were hurting school children while many unions weren't willing to pay even 10 percent of their health care premiums.
"It just shows how false these cries are that 'Oh, it's hurting their kids,' " Fisher said. "You don't see the unions bending over backwards to make it easier for the kids — not even 10 percent. They are obviously not interested in helping the kids and paying their fair share. It’s crocodile tears. They could get more money and chose not to."