- Associated Press - Thursday, May 15, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A state senator leading a task force on Arkansas’ teacher health insurance plan said this week that he’ll likely seek another special session this summer to approve changes aimed at keeping the program solvent.

A legislative task force chaired by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, recommended a series of changes Wednesday that would require legislative approval this year. Lawmakers recommended dropping part-time employees from plans and excluding spouses from coverage if they have access to insurance from their own employers.

“Quite honestly, the recommendations that we’re making are much less draconian than I feared we would have to make when I saw the cash flow situation of the plan,” Hendren said.

Once there’s consensus among legislators, Hendren said he’d ask Gov. Mike Beebe to call a special session in August to address the issue. Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Beebe, said Wednesday that it’s too early to say whether the governor would agree to the session.

“It’s all very hypothetical until we have something concrete to consider,” DeCample told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/T6mvED ).

Some lawmakers opposed the proposal to drop part-time workers from the health insurance plans, which would affect employees who work fewer than 30 hours per week. The state estimated that such a move would affect about 4,000 employees and save about $10.2 million.

Proponents of the plan said most of those workers would be eligible for subsidized coverage under the private option Medicaid expansion reauthorized by the Legislature this year. But opponents noted that another reauthorization may fail when the Legislature convenes again next year.

“I definitely don’t want to be a part of something where we throw all these folks off of this plan, and then they’re left completely without any options whatsoever when it comes next year or a year after that,” said Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow.

Lawmakers passed legislation setting up the task force during a special session held last October to reduce insurance rate hikes of up to 50 percent for teachers that would have taken effect Jan. 1, 2014. During that 33-hour session, lawmakers approved using $43 million in surplus money to avoid the large jump in premiums.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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