February 8, 2007

Watching the House: Stop State Employee Insurance Buyouts

Marc Comtois

While some are privileged enough to get regular emailings from the General Assembly, the rest of us can still keep an eye on the Bills being proposed in either the Senate's or the House's daily proceedings. Now, even if most of the legislation proposed by the the Republican delegation stand about as much chance of getting through committee as I do throwing down a dunk, it's still nice to dream.......

By highlighting some of their proposals, I hope to show that they're generally pointing in the right direction--and hopefully encourage them to keep up the fight. For instance, there's H 5380 (Proposed by Representatives Richard Singleton, Victor Moffitt, Nicholas Gorham--Minority Whip, John Loughlin, and Bruce Long--Deputy Minority Whip), which wants to amend a certain portion of the current State law dealing with State employee insurance by inserting the following language:

No person in the service of this state whose spouse also is in the service of this state or its municipality shall be eligible for any health insurance benefits or any other payment in lieu thereof if they are receiving health insurance benefits from their spouse.
In other words, no more buyouts. After all, why should they be rewarded for not double-dipping into already generous state health benefits? The purpose of the benefits are to be insurance, not a salary-increasing device via a non-participation reward.

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The language isolating this to individuals working for the state that have a spouse also “in the service of this state” is the only way it can work. When one person gets insurance, say through the state, and the spouse gets it through another location (ie teacher’s union), the only way to keep them from double dipping is to offer a buy out. Otherwise, both individuals will take the insurance. The key is to find the absolute lowest amount that a buy out will entice them to opt out of the insurance.

But as I said, if they both work in the same organization (the state govt in this instance) then, theoretically, the state would know if the spouse is getting insurance (assuming we have someone to monitor the process). Otherwise, without a buy out, the “give me mine” mentality will result in double dipping. It’s sad but true.

Posted by: WJF at February 8, 2007 4:08 PM

Are "buyouts" the same as "buybacks"? We've had a well-publicized case regarding that in EP for some time.

Posted by: Will at February 8, 2007 5:31 PM

Will, I'd consider them the same thing.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 8, 2007 6:51 PM

I assumed they are the same. In our school district they are called buybacks. In East Greenwich (which is not "our school district" but one I know about) the buyback is just under $4000 for family coverage. I would think something closer to $500 would be sufficient. The question to ask is would someone pass up $500 just to be spiteful and take coverage they don't need.

I also wonder if the unions would be willing to drop (or heavily reduce) the buyback if universal coverage is implemented.

Posted by: WJF at February 8, 2007 8:54 PM

OK, so I'm a little slow so tell me if I'm getting this right.

If a state employee is married to another public employee, the state employee can get health coverage through their spouse AND get paid for not taking their own health insurance?

Someone tell me that this isn't the case...anyone?

Posted by: Anthony at February 9, 2007 12:36 AM


Precisely right -- and the abuse is even more flagrant and egregious at the municipal level. Here in East Providence, let's say the wife's a school teacher and the husband works for the police department or is a state worker, they are both "entitled" per their contracts "FREE" health insurance for them and their family, without any premiums or copays (though our police dept. recently did agree to start paying a 15% copay, but no premiums). If the husband opts for the family plan, the (in this example) female teacher is paid an average "buyback" of just about $5000 here, for not taking the FREE healthcare plan. They literally get an extra $5000 in cash, in addition to their already bloated salaries. Insane?

Just to add further insult to injury, just within the last week or so, our city council voted 3-2 to repeal the buybacks, and to continue our lawsuit in superior court. However, the school committee voted 3-2 to keep them in place, which means they will stay in place until the current teacher contracts expire. Because of the school committee's deplorable action, it also means that the city will have to come up with $600,000 that it didn't budget for, to pay approximately 130 teachers for buybacks that the city had held back paying. Oh by the way, the current chair of our school committe just happens to be the past president of the teacher's union here. We are working on other possible legal remedies. And you thought New Orleans had corruption problems...

Posted by: Will at February 9, 2007 2:05 AM
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