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EDITORIAL: This must be THT Health’s last chance

THT Health, the organization that provides medical insurance for Clark County teachers and their families. has a cat-like ability to avoid all-but certain death. But felines aren’t leaving teachers worried about unpaid doctor bills and costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

The Review-Journal’s Jeff German recently provided a detailed overview of THT Health, which was previously known as Teachers Health Trust. It has a habit of running out of money.

Last February, it had $43 million in debt. Last summer, THT Health told medical providers that it couldn’t pay them. Teachers complained that their doctors weren’t seeing them anymore because of unpaid bills. Some were sent to collections.

These financial problems are part of a long-running pattern. For years, THT Health has been stumbling from one financial crisis to another. In 2013, Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Vellardita said the trust would be “belly up in 60 to 90 days.” The trust managed to survive, but that was far from the end of its financial woes.

In 2015, the trust announced that it was going to require teachers to pay more out-of-pocket. An audit released the previous year showed its cash reserves had gone from $7.7 million in June 2013 to nothing a year later. Mr. Vellardita declared that the trust needed to “evolve into something different.”

In 2017, teachers again complained about unpaid medical bills and filed a class-action lawsuit. The trust’s former executive team filed suit as well, claiming they were whistleblowers who faced retaliation.

In late 2019, the trust was internally concerned about costs outpacing its taxpayers subsidies provided by the school district. The beginning of the coronavirus pandemic temporarily reduced medical expenses but not for long. After teachers and their families resumed medical appointments, the trust soon started taking on water. That led to the current situation.

Incredibly, the trust has been able to keep its books largely secret despite taxpayers giving it $1.4 billion since 2011. The Clark County School District Board of Trustees and past superintendents never required sufficient transparency, even while bailing it out. It must be nice to have so much of other people’s money to spend.

In theory, that has changed. The district gave THT Health a $35 million advance — or more accurately, another bailout — and reached a new agreement that demands financial transparency. That includes an annual audit and an annual public presentation on the trust’s finances. Overdue claims must be resolved by this June. The trust must also pay back the $35 million it received by June 2024.

If the trust doesn’t meet these terms, there’s a path to dissolving it. The deal reads that the “CCEA further agrees to aid in and will consent to the transition from the THT to CCSD universal health plan” if there are enough violations of the agreement in a year.

In exchange for the district’s extra financial support, Mr. Vellardita said, “they put in there a requirement that if it doesn’t work, there is no more lifeline. And so we agreed to it. We think it’s reasonable.”

But those are just words. It will take courage to see them through. In fall of 2019, Mr. Vellardita threatened to conduct an illegal strike while seeking higher pay for teachers. Instead of hammering the union in court, the district capitulated.

The district will “never dissolve (the trust) if they don’t comply,” Edward Goldman, the district’s former chief negotiator, said. “The Board of Trustees and superintendent have a history of never holding the trust’s feet to the fire.”

Mr. Goldman’s skepticism is well justified. But school district leaders need to find their spines and do what’s right. If the trust fails again, put it out of its misery and move teachers to a better-managed insurance plan. The taxpayers are not an endless resource.

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