Letter, Opinion

Statewide teachers’ health plan a rare opportunity

Dear Editor,

The time to act is now. The Legislature faces a rare opportunity to make Vermont more affordable for all.

The Affordable Care Act requires renegotiations of all teacher health insurance plans before Jan. 1, 2018. This provision allows the state to save money by dropping the high premium or “Cadillac” insurance plans. Working alongside the Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont Superintendents Association, Gov. Phil Scott has created a proposal to negotiate all health care contracts for teachers and school employees under a single statewide plan. It would bring about an estimated $75 million in savings.

The 20 teachers’ contracts that have been negotiated so far have not produced uniform savings. Therefore, we can be sure that this approach will not match the total savings under the governor’s plan. The Scott administration will use $50 million of the total savings toward health savings accounts for teachers and school employees to hold them financially whole. Therefore, the new plan will not affect benefits and will not incur higher health care expenses for teachers and school staff.

The resulting net savings of $26 million annually will provide enormous property tax relief for Vermonters. Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, put forth an amendment to allocate these savings to the education fund for this purpose. Last week, a broad and bipartisan coalition of 52 Republicans, 16 Democrats, and six independents came together in support of the governor’s plan. That we were able to garner significant support from across the aisle demonstrates the importance of the issue. If legislators are to keep the promise of affordability to Vermonters, then we cannot miss out on this once in a lifetime opening to reduce the tax burden.

Unfortunately, the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association opposes the proposal because it does not want to surrender its power to negotiate contracts on behalf of school employees. Pandering to this influential special interest group, House Democratic leaders are alleging that the plan hurts the union’s collective bargaining rights. This is false. Teacher and employee salaries, and other work-related considerations such as time off, will continue to be negotiated at the local school district level. Importantly, the new plan will provide health coverage equity for educators across the state, and restore balance at the bargaining table between the powerful teachers’ union and volunteer local school boards.

As leader of the House Republican caucus, I encourage readers to participate in this consequential debate and endorse the governor’s proposal to save millions each year. I am committed to collaborating with my fellow legislators and the governor’s office to promote such innovative and cost-effective measures that will go a long way toward reviving our economy and making Vermont affordable home for all.

Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton,House Republican leader.

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