School employees launch questions to EBD about insurance rates

A portion of the school employees in attendance
A portion of the school employees in attendance

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - A meeting Wednesday night regarding health insurance brought hundreds of public school employees to Greene County Tech High School.

Members of the Employee Benefits Division explained why they voted to increase the premiums for school employees two weeks ago.

Like many, Amanda Semonds came to get answers.

"I rode in with some fellow teachers from Wynne," Semonds said "About 50 miles one way." Semonds told Region 8 News she came out to let herself be seen.

She wasn't the only one. It was a packed house at the Greene County Tech Arena Wednesday night. Full of public school employees who had plenty of questions and had done plenty of research.

The group, that will see their insurance rates spike dramatically in 2014, launched questions to members of the Employee Benefits Division. The EBD maintains the group health insurance plans for both state employees and public school employees.

"What has happened, over time, without any other cliche or analogy, is it is a perfect storm of problems," Interim Deputy Director for the EBD, Doug Shackelford said.

Shackelford explained that between flat funding for the insurance group, catastrophic claims by school employees and a low participation rate in the insurance plan, they had no choice but to up the rates.

"Unfortunately, for the public schools, all those things combined together at one time and the plan simply hit the tipping point."

It didn't, however, answer the question as to how to fix it.

"I can't afford to bring home $500 a month," a teacher from the Pocahontas School District said. "So the big question is...what are we doing to do about it?"

Legislators in attendance said they're working on it.

"I hear you loud and clear," Senator Robert Thompson said. "We're gonna continue to work at it and that's about all I can say."

"We're concerned. We're here. Nobody made us be here," Representative Homer Lenderman said. "There will be an effort by the legislature to add some additional funds to help with this, I believe, in the next fiscal session."

If the legislature approves additional funding, it will take effect in July 2014. The insurance hike is set to take place January 2014.

As to the big question of whether or not state employees and public school employees were the same, the EBD said they were not. They said that's why their rates didn't go up the way school employee rates did.

They explained that state employees also receive more funding for insurance because their employer, the state, provides them with more funding for insurance.

Region 8 News will continue to track this story and let you know what happens.

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