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Teachers' health insurance pool clears Ore. House

SALEM — A plan to consolidate health insurance for nearly all of the employees of Oregon's 198 school districts is headed for the desk of Gov. Ted Kulongoski after passing the House Tuesday on a 37-19 vote.

Kulongoski has been pushing for the teachers' health insurance pool since 2003, and is expected to sign the bill. His staff has argued that the statewide pool could save $270 million over the next five years.

The plan met opposition from the Oregon School Boards Association, which runs its own health insurance trust, covering about 64 percent of Oregon's school employees. The association has argued that moving to a statewide pool will create a state-run monopoly, won't guarantee any future savings and would remove local control from schools.

Craig Prewitt, Phoenix-Talent School Board member and OSBA board president-elect, said the pool could increase health insurance costs for some school districts.

"This is going to be unbelievably expensive for school districts across the state, not just Phoenix-Talent," Prewitt said. "Why are our lawmakers micromanaging us this way? This bill is not about managing health insurance costs. This is about politics."

Republicans had tried to delay the move, pushing instead to appropriate money for an independent study of the proposal's costs.

"Why the rush?" asked Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany. "Why are we risking money that could go to the classroom?"

But Democrats argued that previous studies and experiences in other states had suggested that the pool would yield savings, money that then could be channeled back to the classroom.

"We have enough information to make an informed decision, and we don't need to drag our feet and waste $500,000 to tell us what we already know," Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, said Tuesday.

The pool would be overseen by the newly created and funded Oregon Educators Benefits Board, made up of both union representatives and school district managers.

A handful of currently self-insured Oregon school districts — including Medford, Portland and North Clackamas — would be allowed to opt out of the pool.

Average health-care costs for teachers are projected to rise about 8 percent a year for the next five years, from $800 a month now to $1,175 a month by 2012.