Could cuts to health insurance programs for Oklahoma teachers be next now that retirement benefits have been reduced?
A recent editorial (“Health care costs for public employees-the next big issue?,” Aug. 12, 2011) in The Oklahoman argued that now that so called pension reduction reform in Oklahoma is ongoing it’s probably time for “political reform” of health insurance programs for teachers and state employees. According to the editorial:
We can’t help but wonder whether another expensive item for state government – health care costs for public employees – will eventually face the same sort of scrutiny and potential reform.
The editorial cites a study by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, that argues public employees should essentially pay for all their health care costs except for catastrophic medical events. According to the study’s executive summary:
Consumer-directed plans are designed so that, except for catastrophic expenses, employees bear the responsibility of paying their own health-care costs. This sharply reduces the cost of insurance because a smaller percentage of an employee’s medical bills are paid by the insurer and because employees have a strong incentive to consume care more judiciously.
Teachers and state employees, some of whom pay astronomical monthly amounts of money out of pocket insuring their families, will be surprised to learn that they haven’t been judicious enough in how often they take themselves and their children to the doctor. Obviously, according to the Manhattan Institute’s and the newspaper’s line of thinking, people who work in the private sector just accept they shouldn’t go to the doctor unless they’re catastrophically sick.
Do physicians support the “catastrophic” approach to health insurance?
Let’s be clear: The Manhattan Institute and The Oklahoman don’t want people to go to the doctor so much, especially teachers and state employees. The idea of preventative medical care or catching a medical condition early before it develops into something catastrophic doesn’t even appear to be an issue for them.
This is yet another effort by the right wing to reduce benefits for teachers and public employees, who are under attack throughout the country, and these efforts will not end here as long as state government is dominated by the current ideology of the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, legislators are trying to find ways to cut even more from public schools and higher education here. One Republican legislator state Rep. Lewis Moore of Arcadia wants a summit to study what he calls the state’s “bloated” education system even though Oklahoma is 48th in the nation in per pupil funding. Another Republican legislator, state Rep. Tom Newell of Seminole is upset that despite budget cuts many Oklahoma colleges are actually spending more money this year to, well, to educate a record-high number of students who are showing up to school and willing to pay more in tuition. More students on campuses mean more instructors on campus and more utility costs; some universities are using reserve funds to meet demand. The alternative is to turn students away. Do we want to do that in a state with a low number of college graduates?
A few years ago, a speaker at the state meeting of the American Association of University Professors talked about the “silence of the lambs” when referring to the lack of protest on campuses in the face of stagnant wages and benefit reductions. That silence, with some exceptions, continues pretty much today across all segments of public employment, and working conditions for educators and state employees are only going to get worse because of it.