Teacher Healthcare Matters

Mike Vargas Current Affairs, Social Issues, Uncategorized

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So, I am sick. I am really sick.  Last year I came down with Valley Fever. Let’s just say if I was on the Oregon trail; I probably wouldn’t have made it past Kansas.  My illness knocked me out for nearly two weeks because of its severity. Even today, one year later, I am still not functioning at 100%. It has forced me to burn a lot of sick days going to get X-rays and CAT scans and though I am grateful for my ten days of paid sick leave, what I really wish I had was health insurance that covered me completely.

This month I will finally pay off my lung biopsy, which has taken nearly a year to pay off.  Apparently, my health insurance plan only covers partially for a procedure like this. When I used to teach in Belgium, we had a plan that covered everything. Not only that, our health care plan was 100% paid for by the employer. Not only that, I was able to add my entire family for a very nominal fee. So far since coming home to the States, I see very few, if any, school districts that take care of their employee’s families.  Instead, any plan offered is only “mostly” free to the employee, with substantial cost to add family members.

I am very fortunate that my wife’s plan covers her and our kids. I often wish I could afford to be under her plan. But who I truly feel for, are some of my co-workers who are the sole providers for their families. I still can’t figure out how they do it. My para pro, for example, he is a single dad, and he had to have his ex-girlfriend cover his son’s insurance because as a para-pro, adding even one individual family member to your plan means zero paycheck.

One co-worker in particular with a very large family literally works only to provide the healthcare for her brood. Her entire check goes to insurance, as her husband is self-employed. I see this kind of situation all the time now, and I feel this is problematic.

Both my parents were teachers and back in their day, their health insurance covered them and the family completely. It was not even something you worried about. Today we are seeing an increase in what we have to pay every single year.  I can tell you from personal experience, my coverage has gotten worse every year, and now I am paying an added fee to what I used to get for free, and you will find I am not that unusual of a case. My district is actually better than most, but in some places the situation is dire.  So much so, you would be better going on govt care.

To keep teachers, we need to take a closer look at their benefits. Culturally if you look at our teacher population today, there are not many people in the profession who are the sole breadwinners anymore. If you look back 20 -30 years ago, that was not necessarily the case. A teacher could make enough to support their family and provide health coverage for the family. Today the combination of lack of benefits and the low pay, are turning teaching more and more into a gig/side job, and less of a professional career. I believe this is a significant problem. K-12 education should not be a junior college adjunct format of education.  The side effects of this is a workforce that is not wholly embedded in the educational process to help kids learn.  We need the lifers with their experience and knowledge. We need people with years of experience to teach the next generation of teachers. I fear that we are seeing this new kind of model expand, one in which you can only afford to teach for a short time, and I do not believe this is conducive to a healthy education system — both literally and figuratively. We need a workforce that is both competent and full time, and the only way to do that is to give folks a chance to support their families.

In conclusion, even if our school districts gave us a 1% inflation raise every year, it still would not be enough to counter the rising costs of healthcare. So, what do we do, accept the fact we have to take a pay cut in perpetuity? I am grateful for the raises in the last 18 months, but what good is my raise if my insurance keeps outpacing that raise?  I have numerous friends and colleagues who before the 20 for 20 initiative were quite literally taking a pay cut every year due to insurance hikes.  If we are not careful, once this initial 20 for 20 plans is over, we could be looking at this situation getting beyond repair.  I know pay is on everyone’s minds, but the benefits we get with teaching should not be overlooked, especially when it comes to the healthcare of our teacher workforce.



My name is Mike Vargas. I am a proud recipient of the 2014 ASTA Arizona HS Science Teacher of the Year award and I am a 2016 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. I earned my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University where I was Vice – President of the Associated Students, a recipient of the Gold Axe, and President’s Prize awards. I am an advocate for physics first instruction and I am leading a movement to double the current number of physics teachers in Arizona in the next 5 years. I teach high school physics at Pinnacle High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

Comments 7

  1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

    We have struggled each year with benefits as their costs are outpacing raises each year. We are a self-funded trust, and as a small district a few large cases can be detrimental. We have tried wellness benefits, a self-funded clinic, teladoc. We have looked at useage rates for specific benefits and have debated whether or not we want to transfer some of the roughly $10,000 that is paid per staff member for insurance and benefits to salary and allow for different options like high deductale plans or HSAs. Insurance breaks some staff members, I watch part time paras using just about everything to cover their families. Joining other plans is equally expensive. I am also jealous of my husband who is in the private sector who seemingly never thinks about insurance. However, he does pay for himself. Funding benefits for educators in something the state must pay attention to if they expect people to stay in the profession.

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      Totally agree. I have heard people suggest that teachers could be covered by AZ State insurance. I don’t know much about the logistics or possibility of that, but perhaps that could take some burden off of local districts/organizations for the bargaining process with insurance companies. Your thoughts on a change like that? Any idea if that is even possible?

  2. Yolanda Wheelington

    Thank you for this post. I am blessed to have a spouse that has full health coverage for our family. When I grew up, that was the norm. Now, it is rare. I also had double coverage from both of my parents. Now, we can only use one.

    My district’s family insurance for just one person is incredibly high. If my husband or daughter needed my coverage, I am quite sure that I would leave the district for a provider that gave better coverage. This includes leaving education. I love teaching, but I made a promise to myself when I switched careers to become a teacher…after the student loans that never qualified for the promised forgiveness if I work in a public school…the day I paid to teach is the day I leave.

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      This resonates with me: The day I pay to teach is the day I leave. When it comes to things like healthcare and childcare costs in relation to low pay, it seems that many have this exact issue to consider. Pretty staggering.

  3. Jen Hudson

    I won’t even begin to go down the rabbit hole that is ‘research’ on the rising costs of insurance (for employers and employees) across the nation. But, at the heart of the matter is and always will be the pay and public respect. I still remember when I put an offer in on the house that would eventually become mine: The previous owners called my realtor and said, “I know she’s a teacher. We like her, but we don’t want this house to be a struggle for her.” They were worried about my potential mortgage payment for me because “[they] know she’s a teacher.”

  4. Leah Clark

    This post resonates with me. We received our proposed contracts for next year, and it includes an 11% increase for healthcare. Assuming we get the 5% from Red for Ed we were promised, I will still make less next year than I did this year. Adding my son to my insurance this year has taken a serious toll on my pay. I agree that the cost of healthcare and teacher pay has made our profession a side job for many. It’s disheartening and upsetting for sure.

  5. Jess Ledbetter

    I have had this exact experience over my career as well: “Today we are seeing an increase in what we have to pay every single year. I can tell you from personal experience, my coverage has gotten worse every year, and now I am paying an added fee to what I used to get for free.” I feel so, so poor when it comes to insurance. I have a high deductible HSA plan where I pay $1750 before my insurance even kicks in. Do I avoid getting treatment? Yes. I had to go to the hospital on Mothers Day for severe pain (that turned out to be kidney stones). Was I crying about the pain? No. I cried because I was worried about the cost. Totally honest. I was told to follow up with a specialist–which I did–but he wanted me to do some imaging that would cost us about $160 and then see him again for another cost. Totally honest: I’m not planning to do either of those things because I don’t want to incur the extra cost. Basically, teachers have turned into those “poor people” who wait to seek treatment until it’s severe. I wonder if these experiences are similar for all Americans with the corrupt insurance industry or if it’s somewhat unique to teachers. I’d love to see some people from other professions contribute to this discussion. Such a tough time for the working class in America. Thanks for bringing up this topic. As a teacher, health is especially important since finding subs is so challenging and sub days for schools are limited. These things are a constant stress for me with my job–often contributing to stressful family discussions as my husband and I work out plans when we have sick kids. I think improvement in the area of healthcare expenses and handling of finding subs for teacher absences could drastically reduce work stress and improve working conditions. Hope you continue feeling better Mike!

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