A 12-member legislative task force charged with overseeing long-term changes to the state’s public school employee insurance program met for the first time on Friday (Oct. 25).

The group was created during the recently concluded special legislative session that addressed a crisis in teacher and school employee insurance. Lawmakers patched a $53 million deficit in the insurance plan through $43 million in one-time surplus funds and 10% insurance premium increases.

State Sen. Jim Hendren (R-Gravette) was selected chairman of the task force on Friday. Rep. Harold Copenhaver (D-Jonesboro) was chosen as vice-chairman.

Rob Moritz with our content partner, the Arkansas News Bureau, reports:

The task force’s job is to recommend structural changes for long-term stability and affordable premiums in the health insurance system for public employees, school personnel and teachers. The panel must submit its findings and make recommendations for changes by June 30, 2014, in time for consideration in the 2015 regular session.

The Legislature during the special session agreed to use $43 million in state surplus funds to hold to 10 percent what had been a nearly 50 percent rise in health insurance rates for teachers and school personnel set to go into effect Jan. 1.

Lawmakers also approved a package of bills that puts $36 million annually into the teacher insurance system to hold down future increases, and created the task force to seek long-term solutions.

“This problem is not fixed, we we gave ourselves time to make a fix,” Hendren said Friday. “Whether or not it gets fixed … is going to depend on the work of this task force. So, it is important and serious work we’re all doing because we care about making it right for teachers, but also making it right for taxpayers.”

You can read the full report here.

The panel’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 10.

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