$677 an hour for acupuncture? Stop this scam on taxpayers, teachers | Editorial

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In case you missed it, New Jersey just made national news — for our astronomically wasteful health care spending on teachers. Inspirational stuff.

Consider this breathtaking escape, explored in detail by Marshall Allen of ProPublica: The teachers’ health plan does not cap out-of-network benefits.

Predictably, a line of fancy-pants acupuncturists, chiropractors, and physical therapists are showing up in schools and aggressively marketing to new patients.

They are well aware of this flaw and charge a fortune, knowing that the plan will almost always pay out.

Nearly $700 for a single hour with an alternative medicine guru, flown in from Japan? Just what every algebra teacher needs.

Some practitioners are reimbursed for such an impressive number of patients under the scheme that the Attorney General’s office is looking into the matter. It has cost our state hundreds of millions of dollars in the past four years alone, ProPublica Reports.

And it’s not just taxpayers who are the victims. They are also teachers. Because these costs come back to eat them away, too, in the form of higher premiums.

This expense is shared between teachers and their employers – about one-third of the state’s school districts that are covered by this plan. And, of course, the property taxpayers who fund these neighborhoods.

It is not surprising that ProPublica distinguished us. New Jersey has one of the nation’s most expensive health care costs for teachers. And even within our state, their union stands out for its refusal to cut costs.

Former Gov. Chris Christie tried to push through obvious reforms like capping off-grid benefits, and public unions representing cops, firefighters and civil servants agreed.

Our state is, after all, facing a severe fiscal crisis. Their members, who have saved on premiums, are not complaining.

Yet the teachers’ union refused to budge. As a result, a physical therapist treating a teacher is paid an average of $351 per visit; but the same therapist treating a cop is paid an average of $119.

After premiums rose 8 and 13 percent in the teachers’ benefits plan in recent years, in part because of this nonsense, the New Jersey School Boards Association called for a sensible solution in 2017. Still, nothing ‘was done.

Now that Phil Murphy is governor, the New Jersey Education Association, one of her key allies, may think she no longer needs to negotiate with anyone.

The union represents half of the committee that oversees the teacher’s health plan. If a single NJEA member votes to cap these costs, that would be fixed. But no. It’s telling that the union won’t even come on the phone to justify this.

“Everyone agrees that this is a reasonable and decent reform that will save their own members money,” as Senator Declan O’Scanlon said. So why refuse?

“I think they believe it is politically advantageous for NJEA leaders to foment conflict and resentment within their ranks and promote the narrative that they are screwed,” he reflects. “I can’t think of any other explanation. It’s crazy.”

The NJEA presents this to its members not in terms of what it will cost them, but rather: don’t let your benefits be limited in any way.

However, it is the professors who will pay through the nose, each time a colleague goes to the acupuncturist.

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