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Originally published March 7, 2012 at 5:12 PM | Page modified March 8, 2012 at 3:59 PM

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K-12 health-insurance reforms are part of long-term state budget stability

As the state Legislature races to the close of the regular session, a genuine budget reform is in peril. Better management of K-12 health-insurance costs is a basic task.

Seattle Times Editorial

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WASHINGTON's pernicious state budget deficits will persist until known, expensive problems are boldly confronted.

A prime example is the cozy system that provides health insurance and other benefits for teachers and other public-school employees. A credible alternative exists, and it is being fiercely resisted.

Legislation to make the state Health Care Authority the sole purchaser of health benefits for public-school employees across 295 school districts and nine educational-service districts is in peril. The Washington Education Association (WEA) and its business partner, Premera Blue Cross, see their lucrative arrangement for the past 50 years under assault.

WEA and Premera howl about the estimated startup costs of Senate Bill 6442 as they fight efforts to put their partnership under public scrutiny. How tax dollars are spent, and the fees and administrative costs they support, are closely held as proprietary secrets.

Taxpayers have a better advocate in state Auditor Brian Sonntag. His performance review found substantial savings with coherent management of the K-12 health-care system. As he and others acknowledge, there are startup costs that are quickly recovered and lead to savings.

Times reporter Susan Kelle-her cut through the WEA's self-serving hysteria with a Sunday report, "The Truth Needle." Startup costs, yes, and the hope of savings, yes. Potentially higher costs for some beneficiaries, yes; but also more equitable expenses and coverage across all public-school insurance consumers.

All manner of legislative gamesmanship can be expected, including wholesale efforts to gut the legislation. These efforts are a disservice in three ways: Fundamental reforms are mocked, taxpayers are not getting a break and some public-school employees are denied affordable care.

The WEA and Premera obstruct reform at the expense of taxpayers.

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