Teachers’ union drops case contesting health insurance law

Posted Oct. 22, 2012, at 4:33 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The union that represents most of Maine’s public school teachers has abandoned its efforts to block a law that requires school districts’ health insurers to provide the districts with data on their employees’ claims history.

The Maine Education Association said it was dropping its lawsuit against Maine’s insurance superintendent, Eric Cioppa, because it was unlikely to succeed if it kept fighting the law’s implementation in court.

“For financial reasons, it made no sense to continue the lawsuit,” MEA president Lois Kilby-Chesley said in a prepared statement. “We will comply with the law.”

Gov. Paul LePage welcomed the MEA’s decision. “School systems can now generate savings from their health insurance programs to reinvest in the classroom instead of wasting time and money fighting frivolous lawsuits,” he said in a statement.

The case centered around a law the Legislature passed and LePage signed last year that allowed school districts to request their employees’ aggregate insurance claims history from their insurers so they could more easily shop around for cheaper health insurance coverage.

Nearly all of Maine’s school districts insure their teachers and many of their other employees through the MEA Benefits Trust, which has contracted with Anthem Blue Cross to provide insurance. The MEA plan covers about 70,000 people, said Christine Burke, the Benefits Trust’s executive director.

The MEA last October filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Maine, claiming that forcing Anthem to release employees’ claims history would violate the union’s contract with the insurer, and that the employee claims history was the property of the MEA Benefits Trust and couldn’t be taken from the union.

A federal judge in February denied the union’s request for an injunction that would have stopped the state from enforcing the new law. The union subsequently took its case to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. That court ruled late last month that the union stood little chance of succeeding in its efforts to block the law.

The union decided to drop its lawsuit following that opinion.

“We were just throwing good money after bad in trying to litigate this,” Burke said. “It just didn’t make sense.”

Burke said about 70 school districts so far have requested the claims history for their employees. It’s uncertain, however, whether that means many districts will end up pursuing coverage outside of the MEA Benefits Trust.

If many districts end up leaving the MEA plan, Burke said, the districts that stay will inevitably be those that are more expensive to insure.

“If a number of the good-performing districts decide to go off on their own, we’ll have difficulty staying afloat,” she said. “We’re going to fight really hard to stay alive. We have to show the districts the value of staying with the trust.”

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