Houses passes bill to establish new teacher health insurance fund

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

The Idaho House of Representatives passed in a 55-14 vote a bill that would establish a fund allowing local school districts to buy into the state health insurance plan.

HB 443, sponsored by Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, would allow school districts to offer better health insurance plans to teachers and staff. Furniss was part of a governor’s working group on the subject. 

“We pay $12,500 for state employees’ health insurance and $8,400 for teachers,” Furniss said. But most teachers have a $1,000 to $3,000 deductible on their health insurance plan. That deductible is basically for catastrophic care. 

Furniss said he anticipates that only one-third to half of schools will put their employees on the state plans. Other districts will likely stick with their existing plans.

The bill creates a fund, but appropriations to the fund will go through the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee. The cost is expected to be about $75 million to pay for insurance buy-ins, Furniss said.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, called this option “a game changer” and framed any costs as an investment in retaining teachers.

“There is a correlation between (having) a more experienced teacher and better student outcomes,” Horman said. 

Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, said he supports the bill as a former public school teacher. He said he left public education because he couldn’t financially continue. When he shifted to a private school, he had much better health insurance and more take-home pay.

“I plead with you to pass this bill,” Marshall told the House. “It is the right time. It is a thing we must do. Our teachers need this in their take-home pay now.”

Rep. Matt Bundy, R-Mountain Home, is a public school teacher, and a retired member of the U.S. Air Force. Bundy said when retiring from the military, he brought with him health insurance and a pension, because he’s a veteran.

He argued that because of that, some people tell him “oh, you can afford to teach.”

“I want people to come into education and receive the respect and the benefits and the health care that they deserve,” said Bundy in support of the bill.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, said he supported the option of putting teachers on the state plan, but took issue with some details in the bill and the bidding process for insurance providers. He voted against the bill.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, had similar concerns. She said  “Blue Cross will benefit immediately” from the bill because the company is currently the state insurer. 

“The appearance by the public is concerning,” Scott said, noting that Blue Cross does donate to some political candidates. 

The bill passed and will now move forward to the Senate. It will need to pass that chamber and receive the governor’s signature to become law.

<strong>Ruth Brown</strong> | Producer
Ruth Brown | Producer

Ruth Brown grew up in South Dakota and her first job out of college was covering the South Dakota Legislature. She’s since moved on to Idaho lawmakers. Brown spent 10 years working in print journalism, including newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press, where she’s covered everything from the correctional system to health care issues. She joined Idaho Reports in 2021 and looks forward to telling stories about how state policy can impact the lives of regular Idahoans.

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