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Local editorial

Weigh insurance plan on merits

The School Boards Association has a financial interest in the status quo

If the governor's plan to create a statewide insurance pool for school employees won't save money, it shouldn't fly. If it means school workers will have inadequate insurance, we say drop it.

But if the only problem with the plan is the Oregon School Boards Association's vocal lack of support, the proposal ought to move ahead.

The association has a big conflict of interest in this debate, one it's not advertising as it talks about the evils of the proposed pooled insurance program. It runs its own health insurance trust, and by some estimates as much as half the fees member districts pay go to support the association's operating costs.

Into this mix comes the plan by Gov. Ted Kulongoski. School districts would be required to get employee health insurance through the pool, with the idea being that the state's 55,000 school workers would command better rates as a group.

Kulongoski's office thinks it will save about &

36;50 million a year, money the state would plow back into programs.

The school boards association has a pile of objections, including that the pool would create a government monopoly, smothering competition in the health insurance market. Its own pool, it says, already offers the kind of rates available to large groups.

— We can think of at least one other potential issue with Kulongoski's idea, and that's that some districts might not get as good a deal as they have now with the statewide pool. It might cost more. They might get fewer benefits.

That would be a tradeoff, but one we see as acceptable as long as the state saves money as a whole.

Oregon's political leaders have raised many ideas in the last couple years for rescuing the state's troubled budget, most of them involving small amounts or vague concepts about government waste. Here is a real idea, one with the potential ' if Kulongoski's office is right ' to save &

36;100 million a biennium, money that would go right back into the programs in need.

It has potential to contribute to a real solution, even if the Oregon School Boards Association isn't willing to admit it.