Democrats abandon teachers' union over health benefits fight

Jan 13, 2012
Originally published on January 12, 2012 4:43 pm

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Democrats in the Washington Senate have endorsed a state takeover of K-12 employee health benefits similar to what Oregon did in 2007. The goal is to save money, but it angers a key Democratic constituency — Washington's teachers' union.

For decades, the Washington Education Association in partnership with Premera Blue Cross has provided health coverage to school employees. This is big business. We're talking about nearly 300 school districts in Washington, some 200,000 staff and their dependents and $1 billion a year in public funds.

Two recent reports –- one from the State Auditor, the other from the state's Health Care Authority -– propose to consolidate school employees and their families into the state system.

Senate Democratic Leader Lisa Brown says the shift could save $90 million a year, but not immediately.

"There are usually some costs up front when you change a process and the initial savings are small, but they build over time," she says.

Washington's teachers' union maintains a state takeover of K-12 health care would increase bureaucracy and end up costing taxpayers more, not less.

Senate Democrats propose K-12 health care consolidation as part of a so-called government reform package. It's designed to build support among voters for a temporary sales tax increase.

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