What the Legislature takes away, the Legislature can return. Thus, thanks to House Bill 2266, lawmakers are poised to restore public employees’ ability to have spouses get double coverage from state health insurance plans.

Members of the House Rules Committee performed last week “gut and stuff” surgery on HB 2266, which originally required the Oregon Health Authority to gather information on health care coverage in the state.

When they were done, an innocuous two-paragraph bill had morphed into a nine-page measure that deals not with information gathering, but with juicing up health care benefits for public employees. The measure passed the House with only four “no” votes two days later and now awaits action by the Senate.

Double coverage can be a sweet deal for public employees. With it, they can use one spouse’s policy to pick up most health-care costs and the other to cover such things as co-pays. Moreover, their out-of-pocket expenses generally are capped at more than $2,000 less per family per year than those in the private sector. The average public employee and his or her family pays roughly $17.47 in monthly premiums; a privately employed Oregonian and family with private health insurance is paying $470 or so, according to a 2018 state compensation report.

There is one good thing in the measure. The boards that handle public employee and teacher health insurance plans would impose surcharges on families with the double coverage. It’s not clear how much that would be.

If double coverage is sweet for public employees, it’s a bit sour for taxpayers perhaps costing about $158 million in the next biennium — if HB266 passes. Not that anyone in Salem is counting.

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