With all the DeKalb news, I apologize for not getting to House Bill 263 — a bill requiring that retired educators in the future pick up their own healthcare costs — earlier this session since so many of you wrote to alert me to it.
The bill states: A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Subpart 1 of Part 6 of Article 17 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the O.C.G.A., relating to school personnel post-employment health benefit fund, so as to provide that any person who becomes eligible to participate in such fund on or after July 1, 2013, shall pay a premium which reflects the entire cost of such coverage; to prohibit the expenditure of public funds to subsidize the cost of health care; to provide for persons currently eligible; to amend Part 2 of Article 1 of Chapter 18 of Title 45 of the O.C.G.A., relating to the state employees post-employment health benefit fund, so as to provide that any person who becomes eligible to participate in such fund on or after July 1, 2013, shall pay a premium which reflects the entire cost of such coverage; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
I am not the only person who heard a lot about the bill, which is unlikely to advance this year.
“I guess I received more telephone calls about HB 263 than any other this year, so I went and talked to the author, Rep. Chuck Martin, about it,” said Herb Garrett of the Georgia Superintendents Association.
According to Garrett:
The content of the bill was extremely difficult to decipher, and it certainly led a lot people to believe that it would mandate that all retirees pay the full cost of their health insurance (no state funds to pay the employer’s share). Rep. Martin made it quite clear to me that he had no intention of his bill affecting any current teacher or current retiree; rather, he intended that the provisions of the bill only apply to newly hired teachers (those employed after July 1, 2013) and only at their time of retirement (30 years away). All the additional language about how the provisions of the bill might apply to educators who had a “break in service” were also quite confusing, and Rep. Martin agreed that the section containing that language needed a major rewrite.
Now, I don’t think he ever thought the bill would gain much traction, and he’s right. Rep. Martin does feel very strongly, though, that a conversation needs to begin about the financial obligation that the state has to continue to furnish the employer’s share of health insurance for retirees while, at the same time, they have put absolutely no money aside to do it.
For the uninitiated, this is referred to as a government’s OPEB (Other Post-retirement Employee Benefits) responsibilities, and the Governmental Accounting Standards Board has for years required governmental agencies, both state and local, to either put aside money to cover those benefits or make a public declaration that they are aware of them (but, are not putting money aside at this time). Georgia started to put some OPEB dollars away a few years ago (I think they socked away $100 million one year.), but the very next year they used that money for something else (Imagine that!), and the OPEB fund balance stands at zero. Rep. Martin views this as a serious abdication of the state’s responsibilities, and he thinks the issue ought to be addressed. That’s what HB 263 was actually all about.
“To his credit, the sponsor sheds light on a real problem — Georgia isn’t properly funding post retirement health insurance benefits for public employees. However, we disagree with the approach taken in this proposed solution to the problem,” said Tim Callahan of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. “At a time when our state is struggling to attract the best and brightest to the teaching profession–particularly in STEM fields in which young employees could make more in private industry — eliminating an attractive benefit sends a contradictory message about how state policymakers value the teaching profession.”
I asked Martin for a comment on his bill and he explained:
First, the bill on the web has a serious defect in that is says the state employees, including teachers, hired after July 1, 2013 would have to pay for the entire cost of the health insurance while “active” and in retirement – this was never the intent of the bill but instead a drafting error.
The intent of the bill as it was meant to be drafted was to have state employees, including teachers, hired after July 1, 2013, to pay for the full cost of their healthcare in retirement when they become eligible as currently defined in the system because, in my opinion, continuing to add people to an underfunded system endangers those currently in the system.
The bill raises issues that are worth discussing. Among the many emails and letters on House Bill 263:
<blockquote>I checked to see if your paper had written anything concerning HB 263 and found nothing. It is obvious that this bill will ensure that only the least talented educators will seek employment in Georgia. I foresee a time soon if this bill is passed that Georgia will have the lowest educational rankings in the United States. Could you please research this situation and write an article about it?</blockquote>
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog