Breaking News
July 20, 2018 - Postmenopausal factors may impact heart-protective qualities of ‘good cholesterol’
July 20, 2018 - MRI and blood test combination results in improved prostate cancer diagnosis
July 20, 2018 - Update Health Professional and Consumer on Recent Recalled Products
July 20, 2018 - Researchers trace Parkinson’s damage in the heart
July 20, 2018 - Wearable device designed to measure cortisol in sweat
July 20, 2018 - Scientists demonstrate a new regulation mechanism for skeletal muscles
July 20, 2018 - Exposure to mobile phone radiation may negatively impact memory performance in adolescents
July 20, 2018 - SUSU scientists find alternative method to treat post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome
July 20, 2018 - Gestational diabetes may increase offspring’s heart disease risk
July 20, 2018 - New vaccine could protect unborn babies from Zika virus
July 20, 2018 - Researchers find high mercury and methylmercury concentrations in traditional Tibetan medicine
July 20, 2018 - Brief Safety Plan Intervention in ER Can Cut Suicidal Behavior
July 20, 2018 - Toward a better understanding of Parkinson’s disease
July 20, 2018 - Med school communications office wins four national awards | News Center
July 20, 2018 - Professional baseball players with faster hand-eye coordination may have better batting performance
July 20, 2018 - Scientists identify melanoma biomarkers that could help tailor immunotherapy treatments
July 20, 2018 - Research reveals long-term efficacy of drug used to treat common cause of kidney failure
July 20, 2018 - Timing of dinner associated with breast and prostate cancer risks
July 20, 2018 - Health Tip: Performing the Heimlich Maneuver
July 20, 2018 - Nearly all adolescents have eating, activity or weight-related issues
July 20, 2018 - High-performance porous polymeric material for chromatography applications
July 20, 2018 - New molecule shows great promise for future treatment of many cancers
July 20, 2018 - New research project investigates alternative treatments for eye infections
July 20, 2018 - Immune T cells are built to react as fast as possible, shows study
July 20, 2018 - ZHX2 protein could offer a new treatment strategy for kidney cancer
July 20, 2018 - EKF’s Quo-Lab POC HbA1c analyzer meets international quality targets for diabetes testing
July 20, 2018 - Health burdens of very high risk drinking are potentially large, study reveals
July 20, 2018 - Using miniature drug-filled nanocarriers to target headaches and tumors
July 20, 2018 - Researchers uncover cause for progression of prostate cancer to incurable stage
July 20, 2018 - Studies highlight issues regarding black lung, opioid overdose, police violence and more
July 20, 2018 - AbbVie submits supplemental NDA to FDA for venetoclax to treat acute myeloid leukemia
July 20, 2018 - Researchers are one step closer to developing eye drops to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
July 20, 2018 - Patients maintain muscle mass five years after surgically induced weight loss
July 20, 2018 - AMSBIO introduces new, powerful CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing kits
July 20, 2018 - PureTech Health collaborates with Roche to advance oral administration of antisense oligonucleotides
July 20, 2018 - Analysis reveals disparities in cancer death rates among minority groups
July 20, 2018 - Dr Maddy Parsons receives Royal Microscopical Society Life Science Medal
July 20, 2018 - Study finds link between DNA methylation and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
July 20, 2018 - Military personnel with head trauma and football players with suspected CTE show similar brain changes
July 20, 2018 - Vidac Pharma Announces Initiation of Phase 2b Clinical Trial of VDA-1102 Ointment in Patients with Actinic Keratosis
July 20, 2018 - KKR is buying Envision Healthcare in a nearly $10B deal
July 20, 2018 - Older people with broken bones face higher risk of death for up to 10 years
July 20, 2018 - A simple pill for meth addicts on the cards
July 20, 2018 - UA researchers to repurpose ketamine to reduce side effects in Parkinson’s patients
July 20, 2018 - Child psychiatrist available on call to help assess separated immigrant children
July 20, 2018 - High bitter-taste sensitivity linked to increased risk of cancer
July 20, 2018 - Falling temperatures may lead to rise in numbers of deaths from stroke
July 20, 2018 - Supplemental oxygen prevents rise in morning blood pressure in OSA patients
July 20, 2018 - High fruit and vegetable intake linked to reduced risk of breast cancer
July 20, 2018 - Careful patient selection may help achieve good outcomes for vaginal mesh surgery
July 20, 2018 - Researchers raise viability of cloned mice using somatic cell nuclear transfer method
July 20, 2018 - 3HP for Latent TB Infection Treatment | 2018 | Newsroom | NCHHSTP
July 20, 2018 - An orange a day keeps macular degeneration away: 15-year study
July 20, 2018 - Researchers elucidate how the brain drives trial-by-trial adaptation to compensate for errors
July 20, 2018 - Understanding triple-negative breast cancer to develop better treatments
July 20, 2018 - Study compares outpatient antibiotic prescribing with traditional medical, retail clinic settings
July 20, 2018 - Immediate Monitoring With ECG Patch Ups A-Fib Diagnosis Rate
July 20, 2018 - KHN’s ‘What the Health?’ Drug prices and unicorns
July 20, 2018 - Scientists seek to better protect the eye from glaucoma
July 20, 2018 - Football training could improve bone mineral density in prostate cancer patients
July 20, 2018 - Single genetic change in gut bacteria can lead to obesity
July 20, 2018 - Research uncovers new target for therapeutic intervention in breast cancer
July 20, 2018 - WFN to highlight clean air for brain health on World Brain Day 2018
July 20, 2018 - Health Highlights: July 17, 2018
July 20, 2018 - Mom’s marijuana winds up in breast milk
July 20, 2018 - Black men could be healthier if seen by black physicians, new research suggests
July 20, 2018 - Alcoholics have persistent difficulties with emotional communication after long-term abstinence
July 19, 2018 - Researchers unravel how ALL invades the central nervous system
July 19, 2018 - Mother’s microbiome determines offspring’s risk of developing autism
July 19, 2018 - Refining standards of maternal-fetal care
July 19, 2018 - Stitching single cells together any which way you want to
July 19, 2018 - Study identifies RNA molecules that regulate male hormones in prostate cancer
July 19, 2018 - New machine-learning model shows promise in predicting undiagnosed dementia
July 19, 2018 - Sleep supports antioxidant processes, study suggests
July 19, 2018 - MiRagen Therapeutics Announces Initiation of Phase 2 Clinical Trial of MRG-201
July 19, 2018 - Unique brain ‘fingerprint’ can predict drug effectiveness
July 19, 2018 - Life on the border: Struggling to survive in Jordan
July 19, 2018 - CT scans may raise brain tumor risk
July 19, 2018 - Moderate alcohol intake linked with improved male fertility
July 19, 2018 - Alcohol-related cirrhosis mortality on the rise among young adults
Unwieldy health costs often stand between teachers and fatter paychecks

Unwieldy health costs often stand between teachers and fatter paychecks

image_pdfDownload PDFimage_print

As teacher strikes flared this spring in more than half a dozen states, from West Virginia to Arizona, protesters bemoaned stagnant salaries, overcrowded classrooms and a lack of basic supplies like textbooks and computers.

But often missing from hand-scrawled placards and fiery speeches was an issue that has contributed greatly to the financial woes of America’s schools: skyrocketing health care costs.

Many teachers, like other public employees, have traditionally accepted a trade-off: In exchange for relatively low salaries, they could expect relatively generous benefits, including pensions and low- or no-cost health premiums.

But in an era of $100,000-a-year drugs and government budget cuts, school districts are struggling to find the money to keep up their end of the bargain, forced to take away from classroom funding and even modest, cost-of-living raises. Many cash-strapped school boards, cities and legislatures view health care benefits as an unpredictable budget-buster.

Meanwhile, teachers are being asked to fork over more of their paychecks to keep their health coverage, even as budget cuts have impelled them to use their own money for classroom supplies and to crowdsource money to buy computers.

In Jersey City, N.J., where health care expenses have gone up an average of 10 percent annually as district funding has remained flat, teachers staged a one-day strike in March to protest rising costs.

But with an underfunded school system and a $110 million health care bill that is expected to increase another 13 percent this year, teachers and officials accepted a mutually imperfect solution that included changes to their health care plan to end the strike and avoid cuts that would have gutted local schools.

“We’re talking about 300 teachers being laid off to be able to afford our health care bill,” said Sudhan Thomas, president of the Jersey City Public Schools’ board of education.

While the teacher strikes have ebbed with the school year, deals brokered to end walkouts mostly offered temporary fixes, with no long-term solution in sight.

Proposed cuts to health benefits in West Virginia were also behind the first strike this year, shuttering the state’s public schools for nine days and inspiring similar protests in several states. When officials initially extended teachers a 1 percent pay raise, small in comparison to an imminent hike in their health insurance contributions, teachers rejected the offer.

“You really know you have arrived when you become a verb,” said David Haney, executive director of the West Virginia Education Association, whose wife is a teacher. “Don’t make me go West Virginia on you.”

A Pay Equation That Doesn’t Add Up

Teacher pay was below the national average of $59,660 in the six states that saw significant demonstrations this year — West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado and North Carolina. But teachers are losing ground nationally.

The average teacher salary in the United States has decreased by 4 percent since 2009, adjusted for inflation, according to a report released in April by the National Education Association, an advocacy group for public school teachers. During that time, public schools have seen their revenue shrink, with federal funding dropping 19.5 percent, particularly after Congress’ across-the-board spending cuts known as budget sequestration took effect in 2013.

As funding has declined, the cost of health insurance has gone up. State and local governments paid 14.5 percent more last year to cover a primary, secondary or special education teacher and her or his family than they did in 2008, adjusted for inflation.

According to that data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in March 2017, family coverage for one teacher cost state and local governments an average of $1,010.85 per month.

Put another way, a 2015 report from the George W. Bush Institute’s Education Reform Initiative estimated that it cost about $550 per pupil to cover American teachers’ insurance expenses.

Educators have also felt the sting of growing health insurance costs, especially as officials have shifted some of the burden to them. Primary, secondary and special education teachers paid 25.4 percent more last year to insure themselves and their families than they did in 2008, according to BLS data adjusted for inflation.

Teachers paid an average of $585.71 per month — more than $7,000 annually — in premiums for family health insurance coverage in March 2017.

For early-career teachers, that price is especially unmanageable. In Pueblo, Colo. — where teachers secured raises and an additional $50 a month toward health insurance premiums after walking out in May — a new teacher makes $35,277, according to Suzanne Ethredge, president of the Pueblo Education Association.

And even where school systems offer teachers generous plans, with low deductibles and minimal premium contributions, the educators frequently have to pick up the costs for family members.

Many States, Common Themes

The standoff in West Virginia typified the strains in states grappling with rising benefit costs on budgets strained by tax cuts and the recession.

Teachers, like other West Virginia public employees, pay for insurance based on what they earn. For a plan that allows some choice of doctors and hospitals, that means $59 per month for someone making less than $20,000, but $164 per month for someone making more than $125,000.

Last fall, the Public Employees Insurance Agency floated the ideas of slashing the number of salary tiers used to calculate contributions, adding spouses’ salaries in those calculations and charging per person for family coverage rather than a flat fee.

The agency further announced that state employees would soon be required to use a wellness app called Go365, incurring penalties for failing to meet their health goals or for declining to use the system altogether.

So when state lawmakers proposed a mere 1 percent raise to an average salary of just $45,555, teachers pushed back. They refused to return to work until officials agreed to a 5 percent raise, scuttled the Go365 plan and delayed the health care hikes so a task force could review them.

In Oklahoma, the strikers publicly focused their complaints on operational costs like textbooks and salaries. They secured roughly an extra half a billion dollars, said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association. “We got everything that we could out of legislators this year,” she said.

But Priest said health care costs remain a serious issue for school personnel. While the state covers teachers’ individual premiums, covering a spouse and children can cost an additional $1,200 per month, she said — a significant portion of a teacher’s starting salary.

She said that some teacher aides work only for the health insurance for their families — in some cases writing a check to the district to cover the difference between meager salaries and their premiums.

While the advent of summer break has calmed the protests, future strikes look likely, said Paul Reville, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and former Massachusetts secretary of education. The fact that most teachers negotiated at least some concessions proved the tactic effective enough, especially as health care costs continue to rise.

“The shoe is pinching,” he said, “and people are reacting.”

Emmarie Huetteman: [email protected], @emmarieDC

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Tagged with:

About author

Related Articles