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Chairman: Panel's work crucial to avoiding repeat of teacher insurance crisis


LITTLE ROCK — A 12-member task force, created during the recent special legislative session to develop reforms for the health insurance programs for public school personnel and state employees, has “important and serious work” to do between now and the end of the fiscal year, the new chairman of the panel said Friday.

Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, was elected chairman of the State and Public School Health Insurance Program Legislative Task Force during its first meeting since its creation this month. Rep. Harold Copenhaver, D-Jonesboro, was selected vice chairman.

The task force’s job is to recommend structural changes for long-term stability and affordable premiums in the health insurance system for public employees, school personnel and teachers. The panel must submit its findings and make recommendations for changes by June 30, 2014, in time for consideration in the 2015 regular session.

The Legislature during the special session agreed to use $43 million in state surplus funds to hold to 10 percent what had been a nearly 50 percent rise in health insurance rates for teachers and school personnel set to go into effect Jan. 1.

Lawmakers also approved a package of bills that puts $36 million annually into the teacher insurance system to hold down future increases, and created the task force to seek long-term solutions.

“This problem is not fixed, we we gave ourselves time to make a fix,” Hendren said Friday. “Whether or not it gets fixed … is going to depend on the work of this task force. So, it is important and serious work we’re all doing because we care about making it right for teachers, but also making it right for taxpayers.”

If the panel fails to come up with strong recommendations, “the crisis is going to be right back in 14 months,” he said.

“That is a very great motivation for us to do a lot of really good things,” said Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, a member of the panel.

The panel’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 10.