MEA members working closely with GOP senators on fixes to health insurance law

MEA members and their UniServ Directors are working hard at the local level to make much-needed fixes to state health insurance laws affecting school employees, and along the way are demonstrating that local lobbying and advocacy pays off.

One recent example is in the Hillsdale-Lenawee Coordinating Council, where MEA UniServ Director Mary Halley and local association members met with Sen. Bruce Caswell, R-Hillsdale, about health care issues.

The state Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee this week passed five bills that would fix problems with the state’s law that limits the amount school districts can pay toward employees’ health coverage. The bills came as a direct result of MEA members and staff, school management groups and municipal leaders’ outreach efforts to their local state senators.

Public Act 152 of 2011 limits the total amount a school district can pay for health insurance premiums to $5,500 multiplied by the number of employees receiving individual coverage, $11,000 times the number of employees with coverage for themselves and their spouses, and $15,000 multiplied by the number of employees with coverage for themselves and their families.

As an alternative to what’s known as the “hard cap,” school districts can instead elect to pay no more than 80 percent of employees’ total health care premiums, provided their school boards choose to do so by a two-thirds’ annual vote.

A number of problems have surfaced with the law since it took effect, due to in part to ambiguities in the original wording. Senate Bills 541-545 would clear up much of the confusion.

  • Senate Bill 541, introduced by Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc Township, would disallow a schools district’s contributions toward retiree health care from being counted toward the cap on total health care premiums. The state Department of Treasury currently interprets the law as requiring retiree health care costs to be counted toward districts’ limits.
  • Senate Bill 542, introduced by Caswell, clarifies that employees with a single dependent constitute a family, not a couple, thus raising the amount districts are allowed to pay toward their health care. The bill also raises the member-spouse cap to $13,455, and allows that amount to be adjusted each year. Finally, Senate Bill 542 mandates that cash-in-lieu payments to employees who decline coverage not be counted toward a district’s cap.
  • Senate Bill 543, introduced by Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, would require school boards to hold their votes on whether to go with a hard cap or 80/20 split before the start of their districts’ health plan year. As is stands, many school boards hold these votes in the summer, prior to the start of the new fiscal year — when few are paying attention. Holding the vote before the beginning of a medical plan year could help ensure more school employees are tuned in to the process and have the opportunity to provide their input.
  • Senate Bill 544, introduced by Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, and Senate Bill 545, introduced by Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township, would make small technical changes to the law to ensure it would be consistent with Senate Bills 541-543.

MEA commends Sens. Casperson, Caswell, Jansen, Nofs and Robertson for working with school employees to make these necessary changes, and urges the full Senate and House to swiftly enact Senate Bills 541-545.