November 19, 2012

Another View: MEA says union benefit program helps school districts save money


Rep. Jon McKane states that the Maine Education Association has a monopoly in the health insurance of Maine's educators and keeps the costs of health insurance inflated. This is simply not accurate. ("Maine Voices: MEA's role as monopoly health insurance agent over ... for now," Nov. 16)

The MEA Benefits Trust, an organization independent from the MEA, is the primary insurer for educators and school administrators in Maine. Since 1994, it's been administered by a group of seven trustees with its own executive director.

The Benefits Trust offers services to about 70,000 participants. Having a large pool of participants helps keep costs down for the districts, the taxpayer and the employees, just as buying any item in bulk is less expensive.

The size of our pool also helps keep the rates stable. A large group can withstand the impact of several high-cost claims; a smaller pool cannot.

Bids are requested regularly from insurance companies for the Benefits Trust business, but during the last round the only company to bid seriously was Anthem. Therefore, the Benefits Trust continued its prior agreement. For educators in Maine, salaries and benefits are collectively bargained. Both the school board and the educators have a say in which insurance carrier will provide coverage. Health insurance is part of the overall compensation package. Educators have tolerated lower salaries in an effort to preserve this benefit.

Most school districts and educators have negotiated the use of Anthem as their carrier because of the cost effectiveness for the benefits received. As Rep. McKane points out, 99 percent of schools opt for the Benefits Trust coverage.

Of course, the Benefits Trust continues to work to keep prices down for school employee health insurance in recognition of taxpayer needs. Remember, we are taxpayers, too. But we know the importance of health insurance coverage.

Lois Kilby-Chesley is president of the Maine Education Association.

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