The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

April 15, 2014

Ala. educators' insurance rates to remain steady

— MONTGOMERY, Ala., (AP) — Monthly insurance premiums and co-pays for Alabama education employees will remain the same for the next school year, after a vote Monday.

The vote by the Public Education Employees' Health Insurance Board kept an agreement the insurance program's managers made with the governor and legislative leaders in the recently completed legislative session. It called for the Legislature to provide an extra $77 million for health insurance in fiscal 2015 and for the insurance program's board to keep rates the same for next year.

The Legislature chose to increase funding for health insurance rather than provide a cost-of-living raise. Gov. Robert Bentley had sought more money for insurance and a 2 percent raise, but legislative leaders said that wasn't affordable.

In addition to the extra funding from the Legislature, the insurance board plans to spend up to $107 million from its savings to keep rates steady.

For fiscal 2015, education employees will continue to pay $15 monthly for individual coverage, $162 for dependent coverage and $177 for family coverage. The decision by the health insurance board affects nearly 82,000 education employees and nearly 123,000 spouses and children.

In addition to keeping monthly rates the same, the board said members will have no increases in out-of-pocket costs or a reduction in benefits unless it is mandated by law.

Retirement Systems of Alabama CEO David Bronner, whose staff oversees the pension and health insurance plans for teachers, said the vote Monday keeps a commitment that he and other health insurance officials made in a letter March 21 to the governor. As part of the agreement, the governor and Legislature increased the state's health insurance appropriation from $714 per month per active employee this year to $780 for fiscal 2015.

"We got more than we anticipated," Bronner said.

He said the agreement is for fiscal 2015 only and he has no idea what rates may do in following years. To try to hold down rates in the future, the board said it plans to make its voluntary wellness program mandatory for active employees, retirees who aren't old enough for Medicare and their spouses starting in August. The program includes an annual health screening and recommendations for addressing any problems that are found.

About one-fifth of the eligible employees and retirees have been participating in the voluntary program. Officials said there won't be a penalty for not participating in the wellness program during the upcoming school year, but the board could approve one in future years if it wants.

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