Gov. Deal defends decision to nix school bus driver health funding

Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday defended his decision to cut health insurance funding for about 11,500 part-time school staffers, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

He called it an issue of fairness because the state doesn’t pay the health care tab for thousands of part-time state employees. Full-time teachers and state employees get subsidized health insurance through the $3 billion State Health Benefit Plan.

So do “non-certified” school staff, including part-time bus drivers. DHR Commissioner Clyde Reece said coverage of such “non-certified” school staffers ran a $135 million shortfall last year.

“We have to be mindful that to require someone to work at least 30 hours (to get coverage) is also a requirement we have for other state employees,” Deal said. “And if we make exceptions …. then in fairness, we have to look at employees who are in the state system.”

Some lawmakers from both parties have already indicated they opposed cutting off school bus drivers from health coverage.

After hearing a presentation on the cuts earlier this week, state Rep. Bill Werkheiser, R-Glennville, said, “I predict if they pass it, 80 to 90 percent of the drivers in rural Georgia won’t drive.”

State officials wouldn’t say how much the state will save by cutting off bus driver insurance subsidies.

 The governor said Thursday, “It is an ongoing point of discussion.

“I think more and more people are asking the question why is it that people who work less than 30 hours a week are being able to participate when some other state employers could not.”

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