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Skyrocketing premiums cause concern

In August, the board that runs the state’s public school employee insurance program approved increases in premiums that range from 19 percent to 348 percent, with the average increase coming in at 48 percent.

That has Paris School District employees who have the insurance worried, according to Superintendent Wayne Fawcett. The premium hikes don’t take place until January. Fawcett said the increase in premiums is to make up four catastrophic claims last year of over $ 1 million each that wiped out the program’s reserves.

“Our teachers are concerned just like every teacher who has school insurance in the state,” Fawcett said. “We’ve known premiums were going to go up by about 48 percent, so we’ve been talking about it back and forth.”

The program’s plan year ends this month, which means enrollment or de-enrollment can be done in October.

“I suspect we’re going to have some people drop the insurance,” Fawcett said last week. “I don’t know if anyone who doesn’t have it will enroll. I suspect some won’t.”

Of the 168 employees in the Paris School District, 113 are enrolled in the public school insurance plan. The program has plans rated as gold, silver or bronze, depending on the benefits. The state presently requires school districts to contribute $131 a month to an employee’s premiums. That will rise to $150 a month in January. The Paris district presently contributes $150 a month to an employee’s premium.

The gold level of coverage for a family is presently costing an employee $1,000 a month, after the Paris district contributes $150, Fawcett said.

“With a 48 percent increase, it’s going to cost an employee $1,500 a month,” Fawcett said.

For an individual, the gold plan premium jumps from $227 for $336 per month.

Of course, one solution to the problems is state intervention.

The Arkansas General Assembly this year voted to allocate $8 million in end-of-the-year General Improvement Funds to help prop up the teacher health insurance benefits program after hearing that the fund had been depleted in 2012 because of a number of catastrophic claims. Gov. Mike Beebe met with legislative leaders last Thursday and plans to present them with a list of possible options for addressing soaring teacher insurance premiums this week, his spokesman said.

Beebe has said he would would not call a session until lawmakers can agree on a long-term plan.

Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, who attended the meeting with Beebe, said he agrees with the governor’s approach.

“The governor has clearly articulated, and I am agreement … that we want to do what we can to stop the spike in the insurance premiums that are coming one way or another,” Rapert said. “But the only way we will agree to do that is take the authority and actually get some long-term systemic changes, because if you don’t, the plan will continue to get even worse.”

Rapert said lawmakers asked the governor to help come up with acceptable solutions because addressing the problem will require consensus. He said he would prefer that the Legislature meet in special session before the end of the year – the new insurance rates take effect Jan. 1 – but is not sure that will happen.

Fawcett said last week that all the Paris School District can do now is wait.

“I guess we’ll have to see what happens in the fiscal session,” he said. The fiscal session begins in January.

(The Arkansas News Bureau of Little Rock contributed information used in this report.)

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