Premiums for cheap educators’ insurance may rise

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 30, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The $2 per month that Alabama’s public school employees have paid for their health insurance since 1983 could soon go up, but the price would still be a bargain based on current recommendations.

The board of the Public Education Employees Health Insurance Plan heard proposals Thursday for raising the monthly premiums and co-payments to cope with a $255 million shortfall in the new budget.

On May 6, the board will decide how to adjust charges for the state’s new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

“This plan has been too good to believe, but we do have to make some changes,” administrator Marc Reynolds said.

Even with the proposed increases, it will still be a great deal, he told the board.

The board’s actions will have widespread impact because the health insurance plan covers nearly 292,000 active and retired education employees and family members. That’s one out of every 15 people in Alabama.

Board Chairman Paul Hubbert, who’s the executive director of the Alabama Education Association, said the board will likely look at a mix of higher premiums and co-payments as well as pulling money out of a trust fund.

The shortfall is the result of higher usage and the Legislature appropriating the same amount for health insurance in the 2010-2011 school year as this year. The Legislature did that to have enough money to protect all state-funded teaching jobs during the recession.

Hubbert said AEA supported making job protection the top priority and realized it would require changes in the health insurance program.

The program began in 1983 with a $2 monthly charge for individuals and that has never changed. The family premium of $134 a month hasn’t been raised in many years, Hubbert said.

The insurance plan’s staff recommended increasing individual costs to $22 per month and family costs to $194. It also suggested raising the copay for doctor visits from $20 to $30. Those would be similar to the charges for state employees’ insurance plan.

The recommendations also include higher charges for retirees and their families.

The board is also looking at changes to comply with the new federal health insurance plan, including covering dependents to age 26 instead of 25 and removing a $1 million lifetime limit on benefits.