It’s no secret that America’s educators are overworked and underpaid. Even before the coronavirus pandemic upended the education system, teachers were starting to reach a breaking point, evidenced by widespread teacher strikes and protests in 2018 and 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted both the essential role educators play in our society, and the immense personal burden placed on those who choose to take on this role.
Traditionally, like other public sector employees, teachers have accepted lower salaries in exchange for attractive non-wage benefits, including prepaid insurance premiums and pension plans. But in recent years, school districts have been unable to keep up with inflating healthcare costs, putting the burden on teachers to make up the difference.
Educators are being asked to contribute a greater portion of their take-home pay toward cost sharing, but their salaries have largely stayed the same. Adjusting for inflation, since 1996, teachers’ weekly wages have actually decreased $30 per week to $1,092 in 2015, while all college graduates’ average weekly wages have increased $124 to reach $1,416.
Meanwhile, compared to a decade ago, teachers are contributing nearly $1,500 more per year toward premiums—a higher increase than other public employees.
As premiums continue to rise, teachers are unable to afford higher levels of coverage. Instead, they opt into plans that feature lower premiums, but smaller network options and higher cost sharing through high deductibles and lower coinsurance rates.
An Impossible Choice
When medical bills exceed five percent of income (roughly $1,900 for the average annual starting salary of a teacher), people are twice as likely to have trouble making ends meet. The prevalence of medical cost debt among teachers is forcing many to take on additional jobs to make ends meet or to leave the profession entirely.
In a study by Gallup, pay or benefits was the second most cited reason for teachers leaving their job. Additionally, almost half of teachers in the U.S. say they are actively looking for a different job now or watching for opportunities.
Another study by the Economic Policy Institute showed that the teacher shortage will continue to be exacerbated as fewer people are, understandably, willing to go into a profession that puts them at such a large financial disadvantage.
So what can school districts do to retain talented educators and attract the next generation of teachers?
Making Medical Care More Affordable
It’s obvious that the need for widespread, systemic change in America’s education system is long overdue. As a society, we cannot afford to rely on the goodwill of young educators to subject themselves to a life of financial and personal stress just for the joy of teaching.
This starts by making medical care more affordable, so that teachers can actually afford to use the benefits they are promised. But how?
Increasing funding for public schools would certainly help. But in the meantime, there are ways that school districts can restructure benefits to better serve their employees.
One of the most pressing problems is that teachers cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs associated with their health plans. When faced with an unexpected medical bill, they are forced to choose between a few losing options: Going into debt, liquidating their savings, or delaying or postponing their care.
A study performed by Kaiser Family Foundation evaluated what resulted when people who have health insurance incur medical debt: They often struggle for years to climb out of it as other debts snowball, with some people being forced to permanently reduce their standard of living as a result.
Delaying or postponing care is a losing option as well: Compared to people in other professions, teachers face a substantially higher risk of contracting illnesses related to germ exposure, particularly respiratory illnesses. Additional studies have also found that teachers face an increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases, certain types of cancers (particularly related to hormone imbalances), and voice disorders.
When teachers are forced to delay or postpone their care for financial reasons, they are more likely to suffer worse health outcomes. When teachers suffer worse health outcomes, they are at higher risk of generating large claims… which then forces the school districts who employ them to increase premiums.
Breaking the Cycle with Paytient
Paytient helps teachers more easily access and afford care. For just a few dollars per month per employee, school districts can reduce financial risk while becoming more attractive to potential employees.
Here’s how it works: Structured as an employee benefit, Paytient provides a healthcare payment card preloaded with funds matching the employee's deductible that can be used to pay for any medical, dental, pharmacy, vision or veterinary service.
We pay the provider in full at the time of swipe and give employees the ability to repay us in full or over time, up to a year, without any fees or interest of any kind. Teachers can turn a $400 unexpected medical bill into $40 over their next 10 paychecks, or $20 over 20--whatever works for them.
Offering Paytient is a low-cost, high-value way to begin to restore balance to our education system. To learn more, contact our Sales team.