Superintendent takes health concerns to D.C.

Herald Staff Writer

Southeast Dubois School Corp. Superintendent Rick Allen gave a voice to small, rural school districts in the national health care debate Tuesday.

Allen traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend a hearing with the Department of the Treasury, the body in charge of implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. As a member of the Southern Indiana Education Center, Allen chose to register to speak at the hearing as a representative for the 35 rural corporations in 14 counties served by that agency.

Schools soon will be required under the health care act to provide insurance benefits to all employees working more than 30 hours per week. Local corporations were recently forced to reduce hours for certain positions to be compliant with the law without incurring the extra cost. Effective Jan. 1, 2014, the government will impose a $2,000 penalty per full-time employee who is not offered health insurance. “Full time” is defined as working more than 30 hours a week.

Allen testified that a new measure added to the law in January — which prevents school employees from spreading their total work hours out over the calendar year — is unfair to schools.

“The proposed rule is nonsensical since you will be requiring school corporations to lie and assume instructional assistants work over the summer break. They don’t,” Allen told The Herald before leaving for D.C. “Being an instructional assistant or bus driver or cook is not a full-time position when compared to other careers in America. Working 180 days, 35 hours a week, six and a half hours a day is not a full-time job.”

Because those school employees who were previously working between 30 and 35 hours per week would now be eligible for insurance coverage, Southeast Dubois schools reduced the hours of instructional assistants, several cooks and a few part-time custodians at the last board meeting. Corporation administrative assistants will not have decreased hours and will be offered insurance next school year.

Northeast Dubois School Corp. will reduce the hours of about 30 of its 52 part-time employees within the next couple of months. North Spencer schools and Southwest Dubois schools will soon do the same for some of their approximately 50 affected workers. Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools already provides benefits for part-time employees.

Allen is concerned that the part-time employees who are offered school insurance will soon become dissatisfied with the new law.

“Most of our folks have health insurance and don’t want to change. This rule will force some of them to change because their spouse’s insurance plan has a spousal carve-out rule, which means if I offer them insurance, they will be forced to take ours versus staying on their spouse’s,” he said. “It’s not a benefit if you don’t want it.”

Allen joined fellow Indiana educators Kathy Friend, chief financial officer of Fort Wayne Community Schools, who represented the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, and Danny Tanoos, superintendent of the Vigo County School Corp., who represented the state’s urban districts, at the hearing. Officers from about 20 other organizations throughout the country also were present.

Each attendee was invited to speak for 10 minutes on the subject of shared responsibility for employers regarding health coverage. Allen said he does not know whether his testimony will convince the Internal Revenue Service to reverse the rule, but he is hopeful that his concerns were heard.

“They were receptive to our points,” Allen said this morning of the panel of four IRS attorneys he spoke to. “They understood the predicament that education is in because we have such a variety of employees. I tried to emphasize to them education is unique. We’re not a business.”

After the hearing, Allen said he was glad to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of small school corporations that are feeling the sting of the new law.

“I really learned a lot,” he said this morning. “I enjoyed this experience.”

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