The Question Regarding MESSA's Gift Coverage Program

In April of 1983, an article in the National Education Association's newsletter explained that the MEA had instituted a support program for unemployed teachers which provides them with career planning workshops, notification of employment openings through a "Job Search" newsletter, and prolonged insurance coverage. The article continued:

For the first few months, the Michigan Education Special Services Association (MESSA)-MEA's affiliated insurance service-picks up the cost of the health care plan a RIF'D employee had at the time of layoff. (Costs range from $61 to $240 monthly.) Even after the free coverage period runs out, pink-slipped members still qualify for MEA's group rates.77

The NEA conveniently revealed that MESSA was providing a gift of "free" insurance coverage to unemployed members of the teachers' union, but a vital question was not answered: Who ultimately pays for MESSA's gift coverage program?

This question has provoked continued concern among school districts, as districts want to know if they are paying the insurance costs of people who do not even work for them. Fairness dictates that school districts should only be paying insurance premiums for their employees, and not their "unemployees." According to MESSA's financial statements dating back to the time the gift coverage program was instituted, the only direct insurance contributions that MESSA receives from the MEA are for employees of the MEA.78 And if MESSA "picks up the cost of the health care plan," this would indicate that MESSA, rather than the MEA, pays the costs of gift coverage for unemployed members of the union. To this extent, customer school districts which pay for the overall cost of MESSA programs are absorbing the component costs of providing gift coverage to unemployed MEA members. However, in certain cases, school districts may offer to pay insurance premiums for laid off employees when the districts negotiate layoff settlements with the union.

Based upon unemployment trends in public education, the actual costs of providing insurance benefits to unemployed MEA members is probably quite small. Once the costs are spread out, the impact felt by each of MESSA's customer school districts is too minor to have any noticeable consequence on insurance premiums. This, however, does not justify the fact that both the MEA and MESSA are taking unfair advantage of their relationships with school districts. No effect is too small when MESSA is breaching the trust of its customer school districts.