EAST LANSING, Mich. – Legislation approved by Michigan lawmakers in 2013 is forcing the state’s public schools to make a choice: Do they want taxpayers to pay extra for elective abortion coverage for school employees, or not?
And in at least one district, school board members have already made their decision without consulting with their constituents.
Houghton Lake Community Schools officials received a letter from their health insurance provider – the teachers union affiliated MESSA insurance company – informing them that the Michigan Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act was set to take effect July 1.
The new law mandates that health plans can only cover elective abortions through an optional rider, that employees must be informed if their plan covers elective abortions, and that covered dependents can terminate a pregnancy without their knowledge.
Health insurance benefits, of course, are subject to collective bargaining in Michigan’s unionized government schools, many of which carry MESSA insurance that previously covered elective abortions, unbeknownst to many school employees and board members.
Teachers and other school employees “are under this MESSA plan and for years and years and years, buried in the plan, is this elective abortion coverage,” former Houghton Lake board member Jim Sutika told EAGnews. “It was negotiated in our contract so MESSA has allowed it to be added back as a rider.”
According to the letter to HLCS Superintendent Scott Dunsmore, the district was required to opt in to the abortion rider by sending back a form, and “If we do not receive confirmation from you to opt into this rider by June1, coverage for elective abortions will end July 1, 2014.”
“The cost for the rider is $.10 per member per month for 1-person coverage, $.24 per member per month for 2-person, and $0.28 per member per month for Full Family,” according to MESSA’s letter.
Sutika urged his fellow board members to make the issue “a non starter” negotiating item with the local Houghton Lake Education Association, and not opt in, but none were willing to broach the subject with the union, he said.
“I’m a practicing Catholic and I’m against that,” Sutika said. “I resigned over it.”
The HLEA requested that the district keep the coverage, Sutika said, and Dunsmore simply signed the opt-in form June 1 without consulting the community or a vote by the board.
Sutika said he recognizes that “of course the union won’t drop something for no reason at all, they’d want something for it” in negotiations, but he believes that dropping the coverage is worth the fight because taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for something they don’t believe in. The fact that the rider results in additional costs to the plan only makes the move even more egregious, he said.
“It is my opinion that ‘elective abortion’ is so very morally wrong in every possible way, not to mention that we, the taxpayers, are paying for such coverage,” Sutika wrote in a recent editorial for the Houghton Lake Resorter. “It is also my opinion that women are free to make their own decision on this matter, please don’t make me, and the taxpayers, pay for what I (we) do not believe in.”
“Precious human life is the greatest resource we all have. Please remember that the next time your child smiles at you!”
Sutika said he’s now working to secure speaking engagements with local Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, and other venues in the community, to educate the public about the issue and create pressure on the board and teachers union to drop the coverage.
“I want the community (to understand) their tax dollars are paying for this,” he said. “I do think in the end it will get dropped.”
Ed Rivet, legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan, said “this is a story that’s starting to pick up momentum” as districts receive notifications from MESSA. Right to Life’s staffers are also working to inform school employees and taxpayers about the new law.
“Now all schools have to consciously decide,” Rivet said, but noted that “the law says this does not affect any policy that’s currently in effect.
“It’s only beginning to affect plans that are being renewed,” he said.
It’s unclear how many Michigan school districts purchase MESSA health insurance, but the company’s website claims 67,000 members, and 200,000 “insured lives,” are in its fold. Multiple messages left for MESSA officials were not immediately returned.