- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The governing board of North Carolina’s health insurance plan for state employees, teachers and retirees is delaying consideration of major cost-saving initiatives that include phasing out its most popular plan.

The State Health Plan Board of Trustees will vote Friday on benefit changes for 2017 but won’t go further, according to Brad Young, a spokesman for the State Treasurer’s Office. The health plan sits within the office of State Treasurer Janet Cowell.

The board’s staff had recommended last month starting in 2018 doing away with the “80/20 plan” - in which members essentially pay 20 percent of health care costs up to a certain deductible. The board will delay that discussion until a later date, Young said Wednesday. Forty percent of the plan’s 691,000 participants use the 80/20 offering.

Young also said the board on Friday won’t discuss whether to recommend to the General Assembly to exclude employee spouses from coverage. The board can make plan changes but needs legislative approval for eligibility requirements. Spouses without other employer insurance likely would have to go to the state’s health exchanges to obtain premium subsidies through the Affordable Care Act.

Many State Health Plan changes are being proposed in response to a mandate in the state budget approved by lawmakers in September. The budget directed Cowell and the board to find ways to control plan costs for state agencies that make contributions to cover employee expenses. The Jan. 26 staff proposal for 2017 recommended higher deductibles and cost-sharing and increased premiums active workers.

The budget also told the plan to raise its cash reserve to 20 percent of its total costs.

The plan “looks forward to working with the General Assembly on a solution that will maintain the financial stability of the State Health Plan while providing meaningful benefits to teachers and state employees,” Cowell’s office said in a release.

Despite the delay, the North Carolina Association of Educators, North Carolina Public Service Workers Union and others scheduled a Thursday news conference to criticize health plan changes they say will increased burdens on already low-paid workers and teachers.

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