NJ Senate president plans to trim health insurance costs for teachers

David Madden
March 29, 2019 - 4:42 pm
New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney

Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com

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MONROE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) — The head of the New Jersey Senate wants to merge a health care plan that covers thousands of unionized teachers with another that covers state workers, all in the hopes to save money.

Senate President Steve Sweeney told a meeting of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA) that he’d like to fold the School Employees' Health Benefits Plan (SEHBP) into the State Health Benefits Plan. 

Such a move, he estimated, could save taxpayers about $300 million a year. About 80,000 plan participants could see their premiums lowered by about 25 percent, on average.

In a press release, Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said, "While the state employee unions worked hard to find savings, the SEHBP has gotten so expensive that it has lost one-third of its members since 2014."

Most districts obtain health insurance for unionized teachers through the private sector.

The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), which represents about 170,000 teachers statewide, has doubts about some of Sweeney’s conclusions.

"Simply eliminating that as an option is not necessarily going to automatically save anybody money," said NJEA Executive Director Ed Richardson, "because those employers still have an obligation through their collective bargaining agreements to provide whatever the level of negotiated benefit is."

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He insisted the union has gone a long way to help bring health care costs under control for taxpayers and members alike.

"Last fall, we sat with the administration," Richardson added. "We agreed to introduce a new benefit option in the School Employees' program that costs 22 percent less than the Direct 10 program, and on a voluntary basis almost 6,000 educators in the very first open enrollment chose that benefit option."

He’s willing to sit down to negotiate further savings within the current framework.

Sweeney’s proposal would have to be approved by the legislature and the governor to take effect.