- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The chairman of North Dakota Legislative Management has named a six-member committee that will meet in Bismarck next week to negotiate a compromise on public employee insurance and health benefits.

Grand Forks Sen. Ray Holmberg set the committee hearing for 10 a.m. Monday at the state Capitol. If an agreement is reached, the Legislature could reconvene June 16, he told The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1M4l8LE ).

The session ended in April with the House and Senate still at odds over legislation aimed at ensuring that thousands of public employees, including lawmakers, can keep the same health benefits and medical providers when their insurer changes July 1.

Sanford Health Plan will provide coverage for the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System beginning July 1, after underbidding Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, which provided their coverage for nearly four decades.

Legislative leaders said many public employees worry the new coverage might be lacking. But Senate leaders said legislation aimed at maintaining the same level of benefits went too far and could jeopardize the contract with Sanford Health and spur a lawsuit.

The committee that will try to reach an agreement will include Sens. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson; Gary Lee, R-Casselton; and Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford; and Reps. Al Carlson, R-Fargo; Don Vigesaa, R-Cooperstown; and Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo.

Wardner, who will serve as chairman, said there is no guarantee the issue will be resolved.

“We definitely have a difference of opinion,” he said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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