A co-chair of a task force on teacher health insurance says after this week’s special session, his group plans to study privatizing the troubled school benefits program.
Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Rep. Harold Copenhaver, D-Jonesboro, said he hopes the working group he co-chairs can organize school districts by size and seek bids from private insurers, in hopes of better managing the Public School Employees Insurance program.
“We’re moving forward in some directions that the teachers are requesting and employees are requesting that we look forward into seeing what the private sector would have to offer to these teachers. That would eliminate them having to deal with EBD [Employee Benefits Division],” said Copenhaver, vice-chair of the State & Public School Life & Health Insurance Task Force.
Public school employees and legislators have expressed frustration at the management of the insurance fund by the Employee Benefits Division (EBD) of the Department of Finance and Administration.
“Our idea is to look at a large institution, a medium school and a small school [grouping] and see what the private sector would have to offer to those individuals and then put it back to local government,” Copenhaver added.
Arkansas lawmakers meet on Monday for an expected three-day special session to address a $36 million shortfall in the insurance program. It is the second special session changing elements of the insurance group’s benefits, structure and funding. The House of Representatives will meet in the Old State House Museum, the state’s former capitol building, due to massive renovations underway in the House chamber at the current state capitol.
A strong majority of support apparently exists for legislation that includes dropping part-time public school employees from the insurance plan, removing spouses with other health insurance options, eliminating elective procedures, and verifying dependent coverage. The changes are likely to result in bronze plan premiums rising significantly on a percentage basis, but gold plan participants may see dramatic declines in their monthly premiums.
Copenhaver says doing nothing will result in large increases in premiums for school employees in all plans, in some instances as high as 35%.