State Health Plan will put off discussion of controversial changes

Trustees of the health plan for teachers and state employees will put off discussion of controversial changes. Those changes would have included eliminating a popular health plan used by 280,000 workers.

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N.C. health, mental health, Medicaid generic
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — The board overseeing North Carolina's health plan for teachers, state employees and retirees says it will delay discussion of controversial changes that sparked concerns among many beneficiaries.

Board members are still scheduled to meet on Friday at 3 p.m. to vote on changes in store for 2017, including some rises in costs for members.

But the trustees will not take on changes proposed for 2018 that could have eliminated the "80/20" coverage plan – a basic form of health insurance used by roughly 280,000 workers.

"Any further benefit changes beyond 2017, including the discussion regarding phasing out of the 80/20 Plan, will be delayed until a later date," said a news release issued by Brad Young, a spokesman for the State Treasurer's Office.

The health plan's staff is part of the Treasurer's Office, and Treasurer Janet Cowell, a Democrat who is not running for re-election this year, is chairman of the board.

During a meeting last week, health plan trustees also discussed pursuing an option that would eliminate coverage for the spouses of state workers. That's a change that would require legislative approval and also appears to be off the table for Friday's meeting.

Those and other potential changes prompted advocates with the State Employees Association of North Carolina, the largest group representing state workers, to say it would make the plan "the worst" of any state-run health benefit in the U.S.

Lawmakers have directed the health plan to look for changes that both cut costs for taxpayers and ensure the plan has a savings reserve for future unexpected costs.

"With this legislative directive in mind, the State Health Plan must continue to work through various scenarios beyond 2017 to increase member engagement in order to reduce costs over time while providing meaningful benefits in accordance with the Board’s strategic plan," Young wrote. "The State Health 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."

Opponents of the change say they're still wary.

"We know this battle for fairness for plan members is far from over, and will remain vigilant," said Ardis Watkins, the lead lobbyist for SEANC. "Costs for working families should not go up until the plan has stopped paying 35 percent more than market rate to hospitals. State employee and retiree pockets are simply viewed as easier to reach into than big hospitals and that is wrong. We are proud that our members took a stand for all state employees in the face of this wrongheaded approach."

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