Added COVID risk for teachers: Potential health care costs

COVID-19's financial risk for teachers and professional staff cannot be ignored. Here's how districts can help them survive the financial burden
Callie McGill oversees content partnerships for LendingTree.

Although nearly two-thirds of surveyed teachers feel remote learning will slow the spread of coronavirus, many school systems are opening their doors for in-person classes. Policymakers are figuring out ways to deliver an educational experience while considering the widespread health concerns.

Yet often missing in the discussion is the significant financial impact COVID-19 could have on teachers and professional staff who contract the virus, and how administrations may have to potentially mitigate those costs.

COVID-19: The perfect storm of costly recovery and high deductibles

Up to 20% of COVID-19 patients require a hospital stay, according to a FAIR Health study, and the average bill comes to $38,221 if the patient has health insurance and stays in-network. Most health insurance plans would cover a significant portion of that bill, but some teachers must pay for some of it out of pocket.

Low teacher salaries further complicate the issue. The average teacher salary in the U.S. is around $59,000 — but teachers in rural communities or with less experience may earn half that amount.

Although employer-sponsored insurance is practically universal in school districts across the U.S., there is still a considerable number of teachers, especially those teaching elementary and middle school, with no coverage. Rising health care costs may be to blame, as a larger number of U.S. workers — including teachers — opt for lower-premium, high-deductible health insurance plans. This dangerous combination means some teachers will have to absorb a large hospital bill that their salaries just can’t account for.

How teachers can reduce the cost of COVID-19

There is one major step administrators can take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 infection (and the costs associated with it): encourage testing.

Related: Key differences shape best and worst states for teachers

All COVID-19 testing is free, thanks to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Encourage teachers who come into contact with the virus to get tested and potentially quarantine. As the test is free, schools will not need to allocate any funds toward it.

How to help insured and uninsured teachers

You can also hold information sessions and help insured and uninsured teachers understand their options for health care coverage. Teachers with employer-sponsored health insurance policies can review their coverage details, including the copay and deductible amounts. They should also check their deductible level and figure out if they’ll need to pay for medical costs out of pocket.

Meanwhile, uninsured teachers who have been on the fence about getting a policy still have time to get covered. Explain your district’s open-enrollment period and when it opens and closes. Because many districts have open-enrollment periods that stretch into the second quarter, teachers busy with their classroom duties may need a reminder.

Uninsured teachers who missed the school-sponsored insurance enrollment period may need to get a policy through the healthcare marketplace. The 2021 healthcare marketplace open-enrollment period begins Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15, for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

UPDATED: Hundreds of free K-12 resources during the pandemic

If a teacher’s income falls below 250% of the poverty level, they may be eligible for a discounted Silver-tier insurance plan. Otherwise, these policies typically cost $6,723 annually. Most full-time teachers won’t qualify for this discount, but other workers — such as aides and substitute teachers — can consider this option.

Some teachers can’t afford a health care plan at all. In these situations, Medicaid coverage may be an option, and eligibility varies by state. Teachers who believe they may qualify should use the website for eligibility requirements.

How schools can help teachers with COVID-19 costs

School districts that sponsor health insurance coverage should review the plans available to staff and look for low-deductible options.

Even with proper measures in place, a COVID-19 outbreak may occur with in-person classes. Schools may decide to use their discretionary funds to help cover teachers’ medical bills. There’s precedent for this, too. In the past, some schools have used these funds to help students with significant financial needs.

The financial burdens associated with the COVID-19 virus complicates already-stagnant teacher salaries. Although most school districts have opted for remote learning, policies can shift at any time. Teachers and school districts will need to take a proactive approach by shoring up gaps in health care coverage to help avoid the kind of financial damage COVID-19 may cause.

Callie McGill oversees content partnerships for LendingTree. She earned her B.A. in Advertising from Penn State University and her work has been published on Yahoo! News, MSN and more.

Most Popular