Group Benefits can spend extra $130 million

The Louisiana Legislature’s budget panel gave conditional approval Wednesday for the state’s health insurance program to spend an extra $130 million.

The Office of Group Benefits had initially sought budget authority for an additional $175 million in order to pay projected medical and prescription drug claims for May and June.

But the agency adjusted it downward when the request went before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

Group Benefits oversees health insurance for more than 250,000 state employees, retirees and their dependents as well as some school system employees. Its budget for the current fiscal year was set at $1.28 billion.

“We would not be able to pay out our claims, if we did not receive an estimated $120 million to $150 million today,” said Susan West, interim Group Benefits chief executive officer.

The panel gave conditional approval while it waits on Group Benefits to provide the Legislature’s fiscal advisers with more fiscal status data.

Administration spokeswoman Meghan Parrish said the extra spending should not further deplete Group Benefits reserves. “We are still collecting premiums, rebates and fees during the same time,” Parrish said.

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