Legislation that would restructure the state education system's fractured approach to health insurance pits teachers against virtually every other school employee.
Put us on the side of the janitors, bus drivers and secretaries, many of whom are desperate for better benefits.
Those essential workers -- along with state taxpayers -- stand to gain if Washington consolidates health insurance policies for school employees.
The bill's primary sponsor, state Sen. Steve Hobbs, has collected a sampling of horror stories.
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-- A classroom assistant in Yelm who makes $900 a month and pays $750 a month in insurance premiums.
-- A school office clerk in Sultan who pays $689 a month in insurance coverage for her and her husband.
-- A school bus driver in Camas who works just 20 hours a week yet pays $730 for insurance coverage.
No wonder the Public School Employees of Washington, which represents such school support workers, wants to see this reform.
What's in it for taxpayers?
According to the state Auditor's Office, a cool $90 million per year. That's the estimated savings from consolidating health coverage for educators.
The Washington Education Association refutes the auditor's findings, but the state teacher union's case is suspect for a few reasons.
First, it fails the sniff test. The notion that it would cost more to streamline such a splintered offering of health insurance benefits just doesn't smell right.
Under the current system -- and we use the word lightly -- the state's 295 school districts each negotiate private insurance plans with every one of their local unions.
The result is 1,000 different pools, more than 200 medical plans and 10 different insurance companies. The total cost comes to $1.2 billion a year.
The WEA's contention that a consolidated approach would lead to higher costs is hard to believe, despite a union-funded study to the contrary.
A similar plan launched in Oregon three years ago has saved about $50 million a year. Washington's situation isn't identical, but the Oregon experience favors reform.
In Washington, the biggest opponents to the proposed reforms are the WEA and Premera Blue Cross. Two guesses on who benefits most from the status quo.
The union and Premera Blue Cross are partners in a plan that is used by 59 percent of employees. Fifty-nine percent of $1.2 billion comes to more than $700 million a year.
We don't know if 59 percent of the employees equal more or less than 59 percent of the pot. We don't know how much of the money collected is profit. We don't know how much of the money WEA gets to keep.
It's safe to assume that they're all big numbers -- big enough to encourage opposition from those who stand the most to lose from reform.
We don't know the actual numbers because WEA and Premera won't tell us. However, they're happy to criticize supporters for failing to crunch all the data.
If the teachers union is serious about winning converts, it would do better to be forthcoming about the true costs of its insurance plan instead of buying so much air time to attack reform efforts.
Don't expect the WEA to run out of money for the campaign anytime soon.
The Washington State Wire news service reports that the union has amassed more than $100 million, much of it from money that taxpayers are channeling into WEA's Premera plan.
Supporters and opponents of reform are telling two different stories. Our advice on deciding which one to believe -- follow the money.