Posted 10/4/2013 03:28 pm
Updated 6 months ago
LITTLE ROCK - A hike in Arkansas teacher insurance rates could be lowered, but not eliminated, through a combination of increased funding from the state and school districts and lower-than-planned premium increases, according to a memo distributed to lawmakers Friday.
State legislative leaders detailed the options they're weighing during a potential special session to address the hikes expected to hit 47,000 public school teachers in January. Gov. Mike Beebe has said he won't call lawmakers back to the Capitol unless there's consensus on funding and structural changes to the state's teacher insurance program.
Beebe called the proposals a "good starting point," but said there isn't enough agreement yet for him to call a special session.
"Right now, there's not a consensus. There are pieces for which a consensus appears to be forming," Beebe told reporters at the state Capitol. "The whole thing, there is not a consensus because you've got legislators and folks going in different directions on certain pieces."
According to the two-page memo, an additional $54 million is needed to keep teachers' premiums at current rates. A state board last month approved increasing premiums by as much as 50 percent for the 47,000 teachers on the state plan starting Jan. 1. For example, the premium for family coverage under the most popular plan will increase from $1,029 to $1,528 a month.
The proposal calls for two options to tap into the state surplus to lower the premium hikes. One would use $36 million in surplus funds, which would result in a premium increase of about 16 percent for teachers. The other calls for using $43 million from the surplus, which would mean a premium increase of about 10 percent.
"Certainly no one can bear a 50 percent increase in their premiums. That's been the short term goal of everybody," said Rep. James McLean, D-Batesville, who chairs the House Education Committee. "We've been working from the perspective of let's make sure these dramatic rates don't go into effect and do whatever we can to lessen the blow."
It also calls for ongoing funding to be split evenly among the state, school districts and from the premium increases - with $18 million coming from each.
Beebe last week delayed the start of open enrollment for the teacher insurance program, which was supposed to begin Oct. 1, by a month to give lawmakers time to come up with proposals that could be considered during a special session.
House Speaker Davy Carter said he wanted to use the proposals detailed in the memo to begin drafting bills and get an idea over the next week if there's enough votes to pass the measures. Carter said he believed the proposals would need at least three-fourths of the House and Senate, since they deal with appropriations.
"I think there is a workable deal in that framework somewhere," Carter, R-Cabot, said.
The memo also includes proposed structural changes to the teacher insurance system that lawmakers say are needed to control costs. They include requiring a deductible for all plans in the system, restructuring its governing board and creating "preferred" rate premiums for non-smokers.
The plan also calls for creating a task force that would be charged with making more recommendations over the next two years on revamping the teacher insurance system.
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