- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - State employees could lose an option to their health insurance and see costs rise under changes to be considered by the North Carolina State Health Plan board of trustees.

WRAL-TV in Raleigh reports (https://bit.ly/20EWjOs) that executives who run the health plan have recommended to the trustees that they consider eliminating coverage for spouses, meaning they would likely have to seek coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

The board is scheduled to vote on Friday. Although the proposed changes wouldn’t take effect next year, board members could vote to have their staff work on putting those changes in place by 2018.

State Treasurer Janet Cowell chairs the plan’s board of trustees, and her office provides an administrative home for the plan. WRAL said Cowell’s office did not make any of the executives who made the recommendations to the plan’s board available for comment.

However, Dr. Warren Newton, a board member, said that the state health plan is responding to pressure from the legislature, which has demanded hundreds of millions of dollars in savings.

“We understand that this is really difficult and we’ve got a series of unpalatable choices,” Newton said, adding that the alternative would be “huge increases in premiums.”

Chuck Stone, director of operations for the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said in a video posted last week the changes would make the state’s health plan the worst in the nation. The association is the largest union-affiliated group representing state workers.

There are roughly 691,000 employees and retirees in the State Health Plan. Of those, 279,655, or about 40 percent of members in the plan, participate in what’s known as the 80/20 plan, in which members pay 20 percent of the cost of their health care up to a certain deductible. That deductible changes based on how many family members, if any, are covered under the plan.

According to documents given to board members last week, starting in 2018, the 80/20 plan would no longer be available, if the trustees follow the health plan staff’s recommendations. The same documents indicate the plan may need permission from lawmakers before excluding spouses from the health plan.

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Information from: WRAL-TV, https://www.wral.com

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