Liz Filskov: Examine the cost of insuring school employees, not the providing of it

This commentary by Liz Filskov of East Wallingford is in response to Neil Odell’s “Taxpayers not part of the discussion of school health care benefits.” She is a former public school teacher, school board member, current state campaign organizer and lobbyist with Rights & Democracy VT, and vice chair of Rutland County Democrats.

Neil Odell’s commentary that taxpayers are unwilling to support the expense of school employees’ health care is disconnected from important facts. As his argument would leave you to believe, higher health care costs are not the result of a dominant entity, failed negotiations structure or shortcomings of existing law. 

Rather, it is the cost of insuring school employees that needs to be examined — not its provision.

Our schools’ employees should absolutely have health insurance coverage and have access to quality, affordable health care. A good, accessible health care access model will allow us to get on a path to a more equitable and sustainable approach of providing this coverage to school employees and to all Vermonters.

To criticize the teachers’ union for working in the best interest of its membership and to suggest that health insurance for our public schools’ employees is somehow a special perk is unbecoming of the president of the board of directors of the Vermont School Boards Association.

It is the responsibility of school board directors to ensure their employees have access to high-quality health care and to work toward affordability for the taxpayer. To scapegoat teachers through their union and pit taxpayers against school employees is unhelpful and poor PR. Unfortunately, neither H.63 nor H.81 addresses the affordability issue or gets at the crux of the problem. 

We are indeed on an unsustainable trajectory when it comes to health care coverage of our schools’ employees, and it is up to us to hold the insurers and providers accountable while holding our school employees harmless. 

It is time to move from a property tax to an income tax to fund public education. This will alleviate immediate affordability for low- and moderate-income Vermonters. It is also time to rein in health insurance premiums, which, according to State Auditor Hoffer’s August 2020 report, have seen “dramatic increase(s)” over the past two decades. 

Hoffer’s report outlines how Vermont’s health care spending is outpacing that of the U.S. and New England. According to Hoffer, “(i)f health care spending had increased at the same rate as the U.S. average, we would have spent roughly $1 billion less in 2018.”

Not unironically, the concentrated health care market, which plays a role in the problem, might actually be alleviated through the adoption of the community school model. Timothy McQuiston of Vermont Business magazine points out that, although rural areas like Vermont offer limited health care competition, critical access points of care, which are reimbursable by Medicare, help to mitigate prices.

Support your public schools. They are critical access points for health care, food access, recreation and employment for Vermonters in all of our communities. Community schools benefit all of us.


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