Teacher Pensions Blog

Based on media reports, you might think that all public school teachers receive gold-plated health care benefits. While there are some outliers, on average teachers receive benefits that are slgihtly beyond average but not extravagant. Here are three key facts* that shape public perception around teacher health care benefits: 

Fact #1: Teachers are much more likely to receive health care benefits than employees in other fields. This is a big discrepancy. Two-thirds of all employees in the private sector have access to medical care benefits through their employer, whereas 99 percent of public school teachers do. Teachers are also far more likely to receive retiree health benefits than their peers in the private sector. 

Teachers are also more likely to have access to other health care benefits. Compared to their private-sector peers, teachers are more likely to have access to dental care (58 versus 42 percent), vision care (36 versus 23 percent), and prescription drug coverage (97 versus 66 percent).

Fact #2: Among those receiving benefits, teacher health care costs are slightly higher. In terms of medical care premiums, teacher plans are slightly more expensive, and teachers bear a slightly lower share of their costs than private-sector workers do, but the gaps are not as large as you might expect. Compared to private-sector workers, a higher share of teachers get their full medical premiums paid for (24 versus 15 percent). For single coverage, teachers receive a medical care subsidy from their employers worth about $6,168 per year, or about $961 more than what private-sector workers receive, 18 percent higher. Teachers themselves chip in an average of $1,175 toward annual premiums, compared to $1,384 for private-sector employees. 

For family plans, teachers contribute $257 more than non-teachers, school districts contribute about $600 less than private employers, and the total cost of the plans are nearly identical (and actually a couple hundred dollars higher for private-sector workers).

Fact #3: Teachers receive medical coverage for a full calendar year, even though they may only work for 10 months. About 18 percent of teachers earn income from a second or third job to cover their mortgages or other household expenses, but when they seek outside employment, at least they don't need to worry about health care coverage. That is a protection not all workers have.

Adding up all these factors, the average teacher receives health benefits that are much better than employees in other sectors. But those differences are mainly driven by universal coverage, not the generosity of the underlying benefits.

*Throughout this post, I rely on data from the National Compensation Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For a more detailed overview, read this Education Next piece by Robert Costrell and Jeffrey Dean.