Attacking educators and their profession has become a daily grind of the conservative ideologues. They base their agenda on politically motivated grenade throwing, aimed at public school employees. Bruce Poliquin, Maine state treasurer, has launched yet another attack on our educators.
As the election campaigning concludes in the next few days, I hope officials come to realize that they should not see as enemies the teachers who work to educate our children, bus drivers who care for our children in the safety of their vehicle, education technicians who tutor and help children in need of special attention, school custodians who work to keep schools clean and healthy, food service workers who prepare endless meals and secretaries who greet us as we enter our local school.
These individuals work for Maine’s communities to ensure our children and grandchildren have great public schools and top-notch educations. In exchange for caring for our children, school employees ask for fair wages and benefits.
But there are those who believe that Maine’s educators are money-grubbers who don’t deserve to be paid an honest wage or receive adequate benefits.
Poliquin, who in addition to being treasurer also sits as a trustee of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System, targeted educators’ health insurance — MEA Benefits Trust — in a recent OpEd.
He states that when he rips at Benefits Trust he only does so as the state’s treasurer. I trust Poliquin when he says his attack on Benefits Trust is confined to a single role and is not by virtue of his other positions.
To be transparent, I am president of the Maine Education Association. I also sit on MEA Benefits Trust. Poliquin needs to extend the same courtesy to me as a trustee while I attempt to correct common misconceptions.
In his mind, Poliquin has a suspension bridge connecting the Maine Education Association, the professional organization for educators in Maine, with Benefits Trust, an independent insurance trust for educators. In reality the connection is more like a rope swing. At its beginning in 1993, Benefits Trust was designed by the MEA.
For 20 years Benefits Trust has been a not-for-profit, legal entity separate and apart from the Maine Education Association. Benefits Trust has one purpose – to provide high-quality, affordable health insurance to educators and their families in Maine. Benefits Trust presently provides health insurance to most public school employees and their families — around 70,000 participants.
Having a large group of participants reduces the costs because of the sheer size of the pool. In addition the rate stabilization fund administered by the trust has kept yearly increases close to 6 percent for more than a decade, saving school districts millions of dollars.
The Benefits Trust has a business relationship with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. The trust periodically requests bids for services, but during the most recent bid request Anthem had the sole submission.
In the 125th Legislature, a new law passed that stated health insurers must disclose, upon written request from a public school district, information about the use of insurance by the district’s employees. A court challenge ensued, and recently Benefits Trust decided not to pursue the case further.
This opens the door for other carriers to bid for each small contingent of a local school district’s employees through bargaining. Though Poliquin expects astronomical savings for school districts, the initial “savings” will likely be short term as insurance brokers try to undercut each other to book the business, only to raise the costs a few months down the road. A bid is only as good as the length of time it remains competitive.
Maine has seen the effect of other health insurance law changes. A report by Consumers for Affordable Health Care states: The majority of individual policyholders (53.6 percent) saw rate increases. Ninety-one percent of individual policyholders ages 55-59 saw rate increases. One hundred percent of individual policyholders 60 or older saw significant rate increases (of 18 percent or more).
Poliquin’s case that local property taxes will be significantly reduced by challenging the two-decades-long success of Benefits Trust is unproven when we look at the failure of these other recent changes.
The decisions made in the 125th Legislature and championed by fiscal conservatives are a loss for educators who give of themselves to our children every day. Perhaps after the election our leaders will reconsider the present war on public education, reaffirm the importance of providing adequate benefits at a reasonable price to employees and begin to view educators as friends within our community.
Lois Kilby-Chesley is a teacher on leave from Regional School Unit 5, while serving as Maine Education Association president. She also is a trustee for the MEA Benefits Trust.