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Friday, June 27, 2014

State employees object to school insurance proposal

Posted By on Fri, Jun 27, 2014 at 11:57 AM

The Arkansas State Employees Association, which represents roughly 16,000 state employees, has belatedly raised objections to the shape of the school employee insurance legislation that has consensus support at next week's special session.

Big wrinkle that I had missed until now: The legislature apparently intends to put those on the state employees insurance plan under the same new rule being applied to school employees as a cost-cutting measure. Spouses of both classes of state employees now covered by state insurance will be required to be insured at their workplace if the insurance is available. The discussion had focused on impact on those covered by school insurance.

A news release from Danny James, director of the ASEA said:

Each special session that is planned to address public school employees continues to negatively impact state employees. Unfortunately reports regarding the special session have left out state employees who face spouses being removed from plans, higher premium costs and added deductibles.

"It's unfortunately that state employees are considered as an afterthought," said Executive Director, Danny James. "The state employee plan is not bankrupt at this time. Changes can be made during the regular session to ensure that the state employee insurance plan remains solvent. The special session, we feel, inappropriate for our plan that is currently doing well."

During the fiscal session state employees were denied a COLA. If received, however; the one percent that was proposed was not sufficient to cover the premium increase and deductible. On behalf of state employees, we urge legislators not to remove spouses from the state employee plan and find a way to fund the COLA.

I feel James' pain, as a spouse of a retired state employee who's covered on the state plan rather than my company's own plan, which — despite a company contribution — is less coverage for  more money. Fair is fair, though. The state puts more money into the state employees plan. As a result, it's had broader participation. Costs have driven members out of the beggared school plan.

I've said all along it's not fair to treat two groups of public employees differently. I think a better way to correct this is to equalize by improving those disadvantaged, not  by punishing everyone. I'd say this even if I didn't face a cost myself. I can afford it — plus Medicare is just around the corner for me. But many state employees cannot. The insurance coverage is an incentive for some to work for the state at lower pay. James raises, too, the difficulties of a forced switch for someone in the middle of ongoing and expensive medical treatment.

When last I checked, 82 legislators — part-time workers essentially — enjoyed the Cadillac state insurance coverage. Wonder how many have working spouses who'll be having to come up with new insurance?

The state employee plan will continue to cover part-time workers, though the school insurance plan will not.

Many couples in the state have one spouse in each system. Will a teacher covered by a spouse's better state plan now be forced to take school insurance? As I understand it, a higher cost, inferior plan isn't an excuse.

Given the legislative process, I'd bet there's a scant chance for the public employees to stop this train next week.

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