Legislators look for solutions over teacher insurance shortfall

    11:05 PM, Sep 9, 2013   |    comments
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    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Without state intervention, teacher's healthcare premiums could rise up to 50 percent at the start of the year. Without the hikes the state cannot afford growing healthcare costs.

    "Most school employees you're looking at almost half their income or more if they have to have people sick and stay on the gold plan," said Dan Stokes, a Science and Social Studies teacher at Green County Tech.

    Stokes knows the importance of teacher's healthcare. Two years ago, he lost his wife to cancer, and state coverage helped ease the financial burden.

    "I was paying $797 a month for the family plan for my wife. They say that plan now is going to $1,500 a month," said Stokes.

    Stokes used the state's gold plan, which has no deductible and low co-pays. The Employee Benefits Division (EBD) said if premium hikes are not enforced at the beginning of 2014, it will run out of funds to pay healthcare costs. One reason, according to the EBD, is the majority of teachers are enrolled in the more expensive "gold" coverage.

    "There's actually a higher participation rate of state employees in the actual gold plan than there is school district employees, so I would say it's a factor, but we also have a different population with some adverse selection that's been going on, so there are many many factors," said Senator Jason Rapert, the Chair of the Senate's Insurance and Commerce Committee.

    The EBD said other factors include more catastrophic claims or claims over a million dollars. In 2012, the state had five claims over a million dollars. Also, very low enrollment in the higher deductible bronze plan has hindered payouts to the state's healthcare funding.

    "My opinion is we need to handle this with a short term infusion to try to maintain some sort of stability for the rates for teachers, and that must be paired with a decision to make a long term fix. That is going to mean taking a look at the benefits that are in the plan and how that plan is funded with state money and with local money," explained Rapert.

    Beyond the politics and what he calls smoke screens, Stokes just wants a solution to keep teachers secure in health and finances.

    "I've been there with my wife. I understand what healthcare can do, but you also have to be able to put food on the table," said Stokes.

    Many lawmakers criticized how the Employee Benefits Division has handled this shortfall. Senator Rapert told THV 11 the board should have alerted law makers months ago when they first noticed it.

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