- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - The Georgia Department of Community Health announced Tuesday that it is looking to increase the number of companies participating in the State Health Benefit Plan and will offer more coverage options for state employees, including HMOs, beginning next year.

Department officials said they offered invitations to companies to increase the number of providers administering the insurance plan.

Teachers and retirees have protested changes the department made last year, saying they limited their options and raised costs. Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order requiring the department of health to include a teacher in the invitation for proposals process.

“Teachers and their dependents comprise the largest group of SHBP members, and they deserve to have a strong voice in this process. This executive order accomplishes that,” he said in a statement. The State Health Benefit Plan covers 650,000 public employees, Deal said.

“We are pleased the see that the Department of Community Health has heard the concerns of teachers and other state employees and has decided to allow more company and plan options,” Tracey Nelson, Georgia Association of Educators spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Vendors selected to administer the plan in 2015 will be announced July 1, Department of Community Health officials said in a statement.

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