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Measure Changing School District Health Plans Speeding Through Legislature

A measure that would put the state in charge of school districts’ health plans is speeding through the legislature.

Right now, school districts negotiate their own health insurance plans. This bill would change that by allowing a state commissioner to select a plan for all districts, essentially putting all educators into one big insurance pool. The idea is that the larger the pool, the lower the rates.

A number of school districts have offered their initial support for the bill. On Thursday, the Mat-Su School District testified that such a change could save them over $5 million. Bruce Johnson, director of the Alaska Council of School Administrators, also called in to say he likes the proposal.

“If there’s a means to create efficiencies, we stand behind the effort. SB90 provides a vehicle creating a large pool of employees from all school districts, with the state administering the program on behalf of school districts.”

But opinion on the bill isn’t universally positive. The Unalaska City School District is opposed to the idea of a mandate, and a group representing 350 employees from the Anchorage School District have said that the change could actually raise rates for those people.

There are also concerns that the bill has been moving too quickly, and that the legislature has not studied the full costs to school districts or the state. Companion bills were introduced in the House and Senate two weeks ago. While they had been assigned to the education committees in both chambers for review, those referrals were removed.

The pacing of the bill came up during a finance committee meeting when Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Wasilla Republican who sponsored the bill, asked National Education Association representative Rhonda Kitter for her group’s take on the bill.

DUNLEAVY: Is your group against the bill? Is your group against what you perceive the speed at which the bill is progressing? Could you clarify that for me?

KITTER: Our group is against the bill because of the speed at which it is progressing. We do not feel there has been sufficient notification to the employees or sufficient research into the impact.

The legislation is now in its final committee of review in both chambers. With the legislature scheduled to gavel out on Sunday, the bill could be held over until next year’s session.

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