State rep. talks AR public school employee insurance rates

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Governor Mike Beebe has agreed to the latest set of recommendations intended to stop the significant increase of insurance premiums for public school employees, according State Representative Harold Copenhaver.

Rep. Copenhaver said, if adopted, the public school employee insurance guidelines will save money for employees and the state.

"We have to be fiscally responsible. That's what they sent us there to do as legislators," he said. "We've had to make some tough decisions."

Among those decisions is removing insurance eligibility for bus drivers who average 720 hours per year and part-time employees who average 29 hours per week or less.

The guidelines also gives more control to employees about insurance decisions.

"Teachers and administrators were concerned about the control of the EBD board, the employee benefit board. The board will not be in charge of making it mandatory for public schools to participate in (health savings accounts) or their cafeteria programs."

The next step is finding out whether legislators are willing to hold a three-day special session to vote on the guidelines. If that happens, public employees could see a decrease in their insurance as early as Fall 2014.

"We need to move as quick as possible on the special session so once that is voted on we can move forward quickly to educate teachers and employees on what they're options and they're premiums are going to be."

Copyright 2014 KAIT. All rights reserved.

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT)-In October of last year lawmakers created a task force to look into overhauling the teacher health insurance program. The group has come up with recommendations to cut state costs and avoid another increase.

The Task Force was formed by the Senate and House and is made up of are five House members and five Senate members. One of those members is State Representative Harold Copenhaver.

"If we don't do anything it's going to cost the state millions of dollars again," Copenhaver said.

So they made the following recommendations:

  1. Requirement for dependent eligibility verification
  2. Exclusion of spouses who have insurance available from their employer
  3. Add guidelines to the current Bariatric Surgery program
  4. Changes to both the Bronze and Gold Plan
  5. More representation on the Board of School employees

They also recommended excluding part-time employees from insurance coverage.

"We will make it available for them to be able to purchase under the private option or the affordable health care act," Copenhaver told Region 8 News.

And none of these recommendations require additional funding. He said their suggestions were based off a business standpoint.

"This will save anywhere between 0 and 4 million dollars per year," Copenhaver said.

If nothing is done, he said the burden will fall back on the taxpayers.

"It will cost the state up to $70 million dollars additional taxpayers money, per individual it will be a 35% increase in the plan cost," he said.

Copenhaver said they are also making it a priority to educate teachers on any changes.

"Moving forward we are implementing education costs for our teachers so they can understand all their choices when it comes to their insurance, it's very important," he said.

On June 10th the Task Force will have a joint meeting with Education Committee where they will make the final recommendations. If the recommendations are adopted, the changes can be expected in October during enrollment.

Copyright 2014 KAIT. All rights reserved.