Lawmakers want school health costs online

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Public school districts would be required to post their employee health care expenses online under a new House bill.
The information would have to include annual health care costs, the cost of providing full family coverage for an employee and the amount the districts contribute to an employee’s health care coverage
A co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Patrick Somerville, R-New Boston, said transparency is the main goal of the proposal.
“These costs are taxpayer-funded and those taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going,” said Somerville.
But David Hecker, president of the Michigan branch of the American Federation of Teachers in Detroit, said the legislation is unnecessary because it would force districts to release information that is already available.
“These costs are already in the budget, which is made public and available to anyone who wants it,” Hecker said.
He said, “If the intent is to highlight health care costs, it’s going to show what we already know: Health care is expensive.”
Hecker said he’s also concerned about the privacy of individual employees. “People’s health is private information. It could still be damaging even if someone’s name isn’t there.”
However, Somerville said he isn’t concerned that the requirement could violate personal privacy.
“The bill wouldn’t require naming of individuals,” Somerville said, adding that a few districts, like the one in Taylor, already disclose their health care costs and haven’t had any privacy problems.
Hecker also said the mandate would cost districts money.
“Work is a cost item. If this information has to be provided in another way, school districts may have to pay someone to do it,” Hecker said.
Somerville disagreed, saying, “The process wouldn’t take a great deal of work hours and would be only a one-time cost.”
Doug Pratt, director of public affairs at the Michigan Education Association in East Lansing, said the mandatory posting wouldn’t show the full scope of districts’ health care expenses.
“This legislation would only show the costs of full-family coverage,” Pratt said, adding that full-family coverage is more expensive than other types and isn’t what every employee receives.
In addition, he said, “Any school district would comply with a request for these numbers, with or without a Freedom of Information Act request.”
Pratt also said the proposal is unfair. “If school districts are forced to disclose this information, then the Legislature should too.”
The bill is in the House Education Committee. Its other sponsors are Reps. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, and Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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