Deal defends move to nix funding for school bus drivers’ health care

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 “noncertified” school staff, including part-time bus drivers. Department of Human Resources Commissioner Clyde Reese said coverage of such “noncertified” 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 receive 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 oppose cutting off school bus drivers from health coverage.

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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.”

Officials said the move would save the state about $103 million. Lawmakers will have to find that much money elsewhere in the budget if they want to continue funding the insurance.

Adding coverage for part-time state workers would cost tens of millions of dollars more. In some agencies, such as the Department of Natural Resources for instance, about a third of employees work part time.

The governor said Thursday that “it is an ongoing point of discussion.”

Said Deal, “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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