New state-run health insurance coming for K-12 employees

SEBB logoIn his state budget proposal, Gov. Inslee includes funding to implement the newly created state-run health insurance program for K-12 school employees, including education support professionals, certificated staff and administrators.

The School Employees Benefit Board (SEBB) program is scheduled to start Jan. 1, 2020. To keep implementation on track, the 2019 Legislature needs to implement the terms of a collective bargaining agreement recently negotiated between staff representing Gov. Jay Inslee and a coalition of K-12 unions.

Here is background for WEA members:

Earlier this decade, legislators proposed a new state-run health insurance system for K-12 school employees. WEA members rallied and successfully opposed the proposed state takeover, although lawmakers did make some tweaks to health insurance laws. WEA opposed a health-care takeover at that time because at existing state funding levels, it made more sense to maintain local control over which health insurance plans were offered in each district. Under the system in place then and now, health insurance plans and funding are negotiated between local unions and the administration in each school district.

However, since that time, state funding for K-12 benefits has fallen far behind inflation. That has pushed more and more health care costs onto school employees.

Major changes are coming:

In 2017, as part of the overall McCleary school funding package, the Legislature created a new state-run SEBB health insurance program to replace the existing district-by-district system of negotiating health care benefits. The SEBB is modeled on a similar but separate insurance program for public employees that has existed for years.

By law, family premiums under the new SEBB system cannot exceed three times the rate for an individual employee. In addition, full coverage is extended to part-time employees who work at least 630 hours in the year, an average of 3.5 hours a day. (Under the current system, state insurance funding is reduced for part-time employees based on how many hours they work.)   

As directed by the new law, a group of representatives from school employee unions met with state budget officials and negotiated the details and funding levels for the new K-12 health insurance program. WEA played a key leadership role and helped negotiate a deal that will benefit educators and reduce the price of insurance for many.

Under the negotiated CBA, the state is required to pay 85 percent of the cost for health care premiums on average. This average is based on a typical plan in the SEBB program, which is similar to WEA Select Plan 2. Employees would pay approximately 15 percent of the premium for this typical plan.

If funded by the Legislature, the SEBB will offer multiple insurance plans. Employees will pay more if they choose a higher-cost or less if they choose a lower-cost plan from among the SEBB offerings.

While the SEBB will be run by the state, participating employees will still choose from a variety of private insurance programs. Current K-12 insurance providers, such as Premera, Aetna, and Kaiser Permanente, are currently in negotiations with the state Health Care Authority to offer plans through the SEBB. Providence is also a major insurance provider in negotiations.

If approved in the 2019 legislative session, the new system increases state funding for health insurance premiums significantly, which will save hundreds of dollars per month for many school employees with dependents and for school employees who work part time. This increased funding for K-12 benefits would allow many school employees to access affordable health care for their families – which may have seemed out of reach in current years.

These are several of the reasons why the WEA Board ratified the negotiated agreement to provide K-12 employee benefits through the SEBB.

SEBB program benefits will include:

  • Fully and self-insured medical plans with prescription drug benefits
  • Health savings accounts for high-deductible medical plans
  • Dental plans
  • Vision plans
  • Life and accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D) insurance
  • Long-term disability insurance
  • Medical Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA)
  • Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP)

For other details, see these fact sheets created by the state Health Care Authority.

The negotiated School Employee Benefit Board health insurance plan will go to the Legislature for approval during the 2019 legislative session, which runs Jan. 14 to April 28. The Legislature cannot change the terms of the negotiated agreement; legislators must either approve or reject the deal. If they approve it, the SEBB plan begins Jan. 1, 2020. If they reject it, then the state and educator unions, including WEA, would return to the bargaining table.