Tester talks of schools' health insurance rate increases on Senate floor

The Lee State Bureau

by Mike Dennison

HELENA – Huge health insurance premium increases at many Montana school districts got some air time on the floor of the U.S. Senate last week, courtesy of Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

"In Montana's Nashua School District, rates are going up 72 percent," he said in a floor speech March 18. "And the rate given to those employees who purchase family insurance? It's going up by 83 percent. …

"How much more of their paychecks are Montanans supposed to fork over before Congress finally reforms our broken health care system?"

Three days later, of course, the U.S. House passed a landmark health reform bill that Tester had supported in the Senate, and the U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a companion bill to tweak the main bill.

Obama signed the first bill into law Tuesday and is expected to sign the other measure this week.

The large premium increases for school districts are for districts belonging to the Montana Unified School Trust, which is raising premiums an average of 39 percent this summer. The self-insured pool has had medical claims costs at levels much higher than expected.

MUST insures 19,000 people who work at 230 school districts and related organizations.

When asked how the reform bill might help any of the schools or their employees, Tester's office said some of the people insured through MUST might be eligible for a high-risk insurance pool created by the bill, if they can't afford the MUST insurance and have to shop elsewhere.

It also said people could add to their policy their children who are as old as 26, which might spread risk in the pool and possibly lower rates in the future.