Legislative panels eye ways to ease teacher insurance hikes


LITTLE ROCK — A series of legislative meetings will be held later this year to consider ways address the spiraling cost of teacher health insurance, lawmakers said Friday.

The State Public and Public School Life and Health Insurance Board voted this week to raise the employee contribution rates by up to 48 percent beginning Jan. 1.

Monthly coverage for a family would rise from $1,029 to $1,528, nearly half of which would be paid by the employee, under the rate increase endorsed by the board.

“In a state where teachers are underpaid compared to other states, it’s unsustainable for them to have to absorb premium increases of up to 50 percent,” Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said in a news release Friday. “It’s not right for teachers, it’s not right for support staff like cafeteria workers and maintenance personnel, and it’s not right for their families.”

Rapert said the times and dates for meetings of the Senate and House insurance and commerce committees have yet to be determined but that any proposals generated during the meetings could be considered during the 2014 fiscal session. Rapert chairs the Senate panel.

The Legislature this year voted to allocate $8 million in end-of-the-year General Improvement Funds to help prop up the teacher health insurance benefits program after hearing that the fund had been depleted in 2012 because of a number of catastrophic claims.

Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, said Friday that the governor is aware of the problem of spiking school employee health premiums and plans to ask the Legislature next year to approve additional funding to help teachers and school employees offset the rising premium costs.

“He doesn’t have a number in mind yet, but as we get closer to budget appropriation time we will be looking at that more closely,” DeCample said.

Doug Shackelford, interim director of the state Department of Finance and Administration’s Employee Benefits Division, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Friday.