News Story

Analysis: Schools Health Insurance and Corporate Welfare

Probably without realizing it, most Michigan school districts indirectly subsidize businesses in this state by lavishing school employees and their spouses with exorbitant health insurance coverage.

Most school districts willingly cover their employees’ spouses, without any regard for whether or not these spouses can get health insurance coverage elsewhere, like from their own employer. If a school employee’s spouse works for a private business that offers health insurance but elects to enroll in the plan offered by a school district, taxpayer funds are being used by school districts to indirectly subsidize the payrolls of private businesses.

Spouses of school employees likely would choose the district plan since health insurance provided in schools is typically more extensive and expensive, but there are fewer out-of-pocket costs for school employees compared to insured private sector employees.

If school districts stopped this practice of automatically extending health care coverage to their employees’ spouses, they’d be able to save on health insurance costs. For school employees without children, this would mean saving the difference between the cost of a single plan premium and a two-person plan premium for each employee (two-person plan premiums are about twice the cost of single plan ones).

It should be noted that  for school districts that still use or had used health insurance provided through the teachers union-created Michigan Education Special Services Association (there were about 430 in 2010), this wouldn’t have made much of a difference. The most popular MESSA plans don’t differentiate between single, two-person or family plan premiums and charged the same rate per employee no matter how many dependents they had.

There are some school districts that do limit the eligibility of their employees’ spouses from taxpayer-funded health insurance. Midland Public Schools, for example, outlines in its union contract that spouses of teachers can only enroll in the district’s self-funded health insurance plan if that spouse is not offered health insurance coverage elsewhere. This is a sensible policy, and one that appears to have contributed to MPS spending less per pupil on teacher health insurance than all but 6 districts of a similar size.

Interestingly, this policy should have the support for the state’s largest teachers union, the Michigan Education Association, since they oppose corporate welfare and support increasing the cost of doing business in this state.

Michigan schools spend about $2 billion of taxpayer money on health insurance. Legislators are considering proposals to reduce this cost, like one that would require school employees pay the private sector average of 20 percent of their insurance premiums. This alone would save hundreds of millions. This proposal would also lead to fewer spouses of school employees enrolling in a district-provided insurance, but there would still be plenty of districts indirectly saving private payrolls since school health plans would still be more generous than the norm in the private sector.

That’s why it makes sense for districts to pursue the types of policies used in Midland for its teachers, as this will guarantee even larger savings for districts, regardless of how much employees contribute to the cost of their own health insurance premium.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.