House Group Benefits meeting pushed

Chuck Kleckley
Chuck Kleckley

The House Democratic Caucus chairman wants the Louisiana House to look into major changes planned to the program that provides health insurance to about 230,000 state employees, retirees and their dependents.

Democratic Caucus Chairman John Bel Edwards, a state representative from Amite who is running for governor in 2015, on Tuesday asked House Speaker Chuck Kleckley to call the meeting so the House can “do the work necessary to protect our constituents from astronomical cost increases” that are part of the Office of Group Benefits health plan changes.

Kleckley said later Tuesday he had not seen Edwards’ letter but he did not have a problem with holding a briefing on the subject similar to what was held to get House members up to speed on Common Core issues. “I don’t see any problem helping educate the members,” Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said.

The Jindal administration is preparing to launch in a few weeks a sweeping change in the insurance coverages offered through Group Benefits. The idea is to give more choices and allow state employees to choose plans more closely tailored to their wants.

But a recent Legislative Fiscal Office report indicates that the out-of-pocket expenses for members will increase as will co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance costs.

Group Benefits members will be deciding during the month of October which of the new plans to enroll. The policies will be effective Jan. 1.

Included are three health maintenance organization options, one preferred provider organization and two consumer-driven options, such as a medical savings account, for active employees. Retirees with Medicare will be able to choose from three HMO options, one PPO option and one consumer-driven option as secondary plans as well as a variety of Medicare Advantage plans.

The administration’s management firm — Alvarez & Marsal — recommended changes to Group Benefits, which the firm projects could to save $1.1 billion over five years.

In his letter, Edwards wrote that the members of Group Benefits will soon be faced with an average 47 percent cost increase for health care under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan. “It is more than appropriate to convene a meeting of the House as a ‘Committee of the Whole,’ so that each of us can be better informed on how these changes will impact the over 230,000 active and retired members of OGB — our constituents,” Edwards wrote.

He added that a “Committee of the Whole” would allow legislators to examine the proposal, ask questions and suggest other solutions.

Edwards noted that under the Jindal administration’s Group Benefits oversight a once more than $500 million reserve fund is far more than half that and keeps dwindling by the day as claims payments exceed premiums and other income.

“The only act of possible solutions offered to date asks the members to pay more for much less coverage and access to healthcare even though the fund balance was spent down to support the priorities of the Governor, not them,” he wrote.

The administration cut premiums contributing to the reserve fund reductions. The state pays 75 percent of the premiums and with the reduction money was freed up for other state budget expenses.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.