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Teachers unions wary of statewide insurance pool



Published: Tue, April 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A special board would be created to design life and medical insurance plans.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Some school employee unions say they have concerns about a provision in the House-passed, two-year $51.3 billion state budget that would make school districts join a statewide health insurance pool to drive down costs.

Tom Mooney, president of the 20,000-member Ohio Federation of Teachers, said the provision should be studied before it's put into place.

"Overnight, [health-care coverage] would go from a mandatory subject of collective bargaining, meaning employees have the right to negotiate it, to a prohibited subject, meaning you may not bargain about it," Mooney said Monday.

"We have some very serious concerns about it," said Mark Hatch, spokesman for the 38,000-member Ohio Association of Public School Employees, which represents school-support employees, such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers and secretaries.

Budget bill

Under the provision in the state budget bill pending in the Ohio Senate, a School Employees Health Care Board would be created to design life and medical plans for the approximately 300,000 public-school employees in the state.

Under the provision, public school employees could bargain collectively for life and health benefits as long as the plans are chosen from those designed by the nine-member board, according to a legislative analysis.

School districts that already participate in a health-care consortium of at least two school systems and representing at least 5,000 employees can ask the proposed board whether they can offer their consortium's plans, under the budget provision.

State Rep. Chris Widener, the Springfield Republican who authored the provision, said the larger the block of employees the schools could go to a health-care provider with, the larger the potential health-care savings.

"Ultimately you have more buying power with health-care providers," Widener said.

According to Widener, the provision could result in about $185 million in savings in the two-year state budget period that begins July 1.

Task-force idea

Creation of the school-employee health-care pool was a recommendation of a task force set up by Republican Gov. Bob Taft to study school funding. And both Mooney, who sat on Taft's task force, and Hatch say they believe studying the idea has merit.

"It's something we're very interested in studying, but cramming this down our throats with no input and no involvement is going to create a huge backlash," Mooney said. "It already is.

"The underlying concern is that most teachers and employees are going to end up with less health-care coverage and pay more for it," Mooney said.




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