Meeting to be held to discuss public school employee healthcare rates

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - In just four months, insurance premiums for public school employees will skyrocket.

In some instances, those employees will be shelling out 400% more than what they paid last year according to monthly premium accounts from 2013 to 2014.

However, they won't be sitting idly by until then. Those public school employees want answers and one local superintendent plans to get them.

"We're in a bad, bad situation here and it's statewide," Greene County Tech Superintendent, Jerry Noble told Region 8 News.

That's why he's inviting school employees from all across Arkansas to come to a meeting he's set up with state officials next week.

Noble said he hopes to get answers.

"We wanna know how this is managed. We want them to open the books and tell us how the bids were given, where the money's going, where they came up with the decision to raise the rates this much," Noble said.

The premium increase won't just affect teachers. Ever public school employee, from custodians to cafeteria workers to bus drivers and secretaries...all will see their premiums jump significantly.

"We're not talking just a couple of dollars, I mean, it's hundreds of dollars," GCT high school teacher, Charles Nelson said.

"The reason I came into this, originally was for insurance," bus driver, Don Purcell told Region 8 News. "I wasn't old enough for medicare at the time and would save several hundred dollars a month."

Purcell, a former school administrator, says after insurance rates go up, there's a chance he won't even get a paycheck.

"I might get a few dollars, but it's almost to the point that I wouldn't be getting anything," Purcell explained.

The Employee Benefits Division, or EBD, is responsible in providing health insurance to state and public school employees.

GCT Superintendent Jerry Noble says the EBD raised school employee rates significantly. Depending on the employee's plan, the insurance premiums could jump anywhere between 20% to 398%.

But state employees are paying a lot LESS for the same package...and getting more help from the state.

"I don't even know how you justify that year over year. My pay rate did not go up 398% this year," Nelson said.

Though public school employee rates will increase, Noble said state employees are paying a lot less for the same package. They're also getting more help from the state.

"We'd like to know why the rates are so much different," Noble said.

For instance, the gold plan for state employees and their families costs $423.60 a month. The same plan for school employees and their families is $1,538.26. That equals $18,459.12 a year for health insurance.

"Now our school employees," Noble said, "several don't even make $18,000 a year and those that do can't spend it all on health insurance."

"Everybody, when they got into teaching, knew that they were not going to be millionaires," Nelson said. "When you're talking about premiums, just the premium for your health insurance, just that, you're talking $1,600. You How can I afford that?"

Public school employees in Arkansas are on a self-insured plan. A shift the EBD decided to do 10 years ago, stating the changes the employees would see would be positive.

Next week's meeting is set to take place at 6pm at the GCT Auditorium. Members of the EBD as well as state reps are expected to be there.

According to a statement from Governor Mike Beebe's office, he plans to "ask the Legislature for more money for the plans during next year's fiscal session to offset some of the impact of the increased premiums on the teachers."

That increase would start July 1, 2014.

Region 8 News will continue to track this story.

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