The State and Public School and Health Insurance Program Legislative Task Force created during this past session will have its first meeting on Friday, according to the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, one of the principal authors of Act 6 creating the task force, said members are discussing a possible meeting following a Friday meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Council, which serves as the Legislature’s main body when it is not in session.  Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, confirmed the meeting will take place this Friday.

Under Act 6, which created the legislation, Key or his designee must call the first meeting within 30 days of the law’s effective date. Gov. Mike Beebe signed the bill into law Monday.  Members of the 12-member task force will elect a permanent chairman when they meet.

Legislators met in a special session last week to address the rising costs of health insurance for 47,000 school employees. Among the fixes was a $43 million infusion of state funds to limit the premium increases to school employees.

Key said members want to start meeting quickly to combat the perception that legislators simply made a costly, short-term fix.

The task force will develop a plan to improve the State and Public Life and Health Insurance Program’s financial condition. The program serves state and school employees and retirees. The task force must provide a preliminary report by June 30, 2014, and a final report by June 29, 2015. It expires the day following.

“The overarching goal is that we don’t find ourselves in this position again,” Key said.

The task force will study what regulatory and legislative barriers need to be removed, and what needs to be restructured, that would lead to “transformational” changes in health care delivery, Key said.

Those would include more transparency among providers and more consumer-directed plans such as high-deductible plans with health savings accounts. The most expensive “gold” plan for school employees contains no deductible for this year. Under Act 6, no future plans can include a no-deductible option. School employees currently can purchase a “bronze” plan with a health savings account.

“With the school employees, what we’re seeing now is much more acceptance of a high-deductible plan with a health savings account because the math just works better,” he said.

While school employee insurance hikes were the session’s focus, Key said state employee insurance rates also must be addressed. More than 80 percent of state employees are on the most expensive “gold” plan, but their rising rates have been masked by increasing agency budgets that have covered most of the cost.

The 12-member task force also includes the chair of the House Education Committee, currently Rep. James McLean, D-Batesville, or a designee; the chair of the House Committee on Insurance and Commerce, currently Rep. Tommy Wren, D-Melbourne, or a designee; and the chair of the Senate Committee on Insurance and Commerce, currently Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, or a designee.

The task force also includes Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith; Rep. Harold Copenhaver, D-Jonesboro; Rep. Bill Gossage, R-Ozark; Rep. Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock; Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers; Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock; Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock; and Sen. Eddie Cheatham, D-Crossett.

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