The New Jersey Senate on March 24 passed legislation, by a vote of 34-0, to provide relief to both public school employees and taxpayers from ever-rising health care costs. The Senate also overwhelmingly passed two bills known as the ESP Job Justice bills. (See Page 13.)
The bill addressing health care costs, S-2273, provides NJEA members with long-sought relief from Ch. 78, while also lowering costs for local education employers and the state. Ch. 78, a pension and health insurance law passed in 2011, imposed unsustainable and ever-growing health care costs on educators.
Senate President Steve Sweeney and Sen. Joseph Cryan (D-Union) were the primary sponsors of S-2273. The legislation was the result of a landmark agreement between NJEA and Sweeney announced in a March 9 press conference with NJEA President Marie Blistan and the Senate president.
“Today marks a milestone in our campaign for relief from Ch. 78 and Job Justice for our ESP members,” Blistan said. “I thank Sen. Sweeney for moving these bills quickly once we reached an agreement. This has been a long time coming, but what happened today is the result of our members’ willingness to stay engaged in the process and to fight for what’s right.”
“Thanks to the Senate’s 34-0 vote today, as well as the passage of our ESP Job Justice bills, a career in public education in New Jersey is on a path to once again becoming an attractive option for those who want to serve the state’s children,” said NJEA Vice President Sean M. Spiller. “With the passage of S-2273, our members and future educators are receiving the message that their work is valued by this state.”
“Today, the New Jersey Senate recognized the important work of our educational support professionals by providing the job security they need to focus on doing what they do best, serving the children of this state,” said NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty. “Due process and the protection against the subcontracting is the right thing to do for our custodians, bus drivers, food service professionals, school secretaries, paraprofessionals and every other member of the school team.”
Under S-2273, new health care options will be added to the School Employees Health Benefits Program (SEHBP): the New Jersey Educators Health Plan and the Garden State Plan. Members who opt for one of these plans will finally be relieved of the onerous payroll deductions that were tied to a percentage of ever-rising health care premiums.
Under the New Jersey Educators Health Plan and the Garden State Plan, payroll deductions would be associated with a percentage of salary—resulting in greatly reduced health insurance contributions, in many cases thousands of dollars less.
As of when the NJEA Review went to press on April 15, the bill had not yet passed through the Assembly. Both the Senate and Assembly are convening by electronic means during the COVID-19 outbreak. Once passed by the Assembly and signed by the governor, the New Jersey Educators Health Plan is slated to be available to members by July 1, or as soon as possible after that. The Garden State Health Plan would become available in the following year.
Access to services and providers would not change, and members will see little or no increase in out-of-pocket expenses for in-network services. Members will have better access to wellness services, and the plan will be working to expand access to lower-cost Direct Primary Care services
Current members who are not in school districts covered by SEHBP will continue to choose among the health care plans their local associations have negotiated with their school boards. However, their school districts will be required to offer the New Jersey Educators Health Plan through their private carriers with employees’ contributions calculated as a percentage of salary—resulting in greatly reduced health insurance contributions, in many cases thousands of dollars less.
For more details on both plans, visit njea.org/justice.
Under S-2273, all current and future non-Medicare retirees will be enrolled in the New Jersey Educators Health Plan.
S-2273 does not affect those retirees receiving Medicare. There will be no increase in how much any retiree pays for premium sharing. Retirees who do not pay a premium share will continue to pay nothing toward their premiums. Retirees who are required to pay toward their premiums will find that cost will stay the same or, more likely, decrease. Under S-2273, the retirees’ contribution will be calculated as a percentage of their pension benefit, not a percentage of the premium, unless a percentage of premium results in a lower contribution.
For details, visit njea.org/justice.