GILBERT, Ariz. - Arizona teachers are getting a glimpse at their new salaries after the legislature boosted the education budget a few weeks ago. But will their raise actually make it to their bank accounts? Or will rising health insurance costs chip away at their paychecks next year?
Balancing employee health insurance prices is not just a school district problem, it's an ongoing issue in nearly every sector of business across the nation. And now teachers who fought long and hard for their Red for Ed raises might not actually take home as much as they initially thought.
Gilbert Public School teacher Bonnie Hickman has spent 29 years in the classroom, and she’s encouraged by her raise after Arizona’s Red for Ed movement flooded the state.
“Before Red for Ed walkout we were getting a 1.25 increase, so we stand a chance," Bonnie said.
Bonnie says Gilbert is giving teachers a 9 percent raise next year. Classified staff get a 5 percent raise. “I think it’s absolutely amazing," she added. But Bonnie and her colleagues face climbing health insurance costs.
“Insurance is a big thing and it’s taking a big bite out of the amount of money that we’re getting," Bonnie said.
The Gilbert Public School District is just one example. Jeff Gadd, school district finance specialist and Director of Training Programs for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, says insurance premiums show teachers covering only themselves can expect to pay about $20 more a month to continue their medical and discount dental plan next year. They can spend an additional fee for Delta Dental. Then there’s a reduction in coverage from 80/20 to 75/25.
And in Bonnie’s case, her prescription costs skyrocketed after 22 years.
“I had a heart attack when they told me it was going to be $330 a month," she said. "I’m used to $20 a month."
“Educators have to deal with rising health care costs," Arizona Education Association President, Joe Thomas said. He adds that it's a real problem.
“When we don’t see significant raises it’s horrific on what that does to the paycheck," Thomas said. "This year when we’re seeing the first significant raises that we’ve seen in a long time, that’s still going to take a bite out of it."
To save money, teachers may have to do their their homework like Bonnie. She spent her spring break hunting down a discount card to get her prescription back down to $30 a month.
“I’m just lucky I found it because the doctors didn’t know," Bonnie said. "So, I have to wonder how many other people are paying $330 a month for their medicine?”
So we can verify that most Arizona educators can expect to pay more for heath insurance next year. It's a disappointment that won’t keep Bonnie out of the classroom, but one she says makes the Red for Ed raises even more vital.
“I’ve just been focused on what I do in my classroom," Bonnie said. "We just do what we do and we don’t even realize how bad it’s gotten.”
Health insurance costs and teacher raises vary by district and network plans. There are ways to reduce monthly premiums, like taking on higher deductibles.