DCH board will discuss tweaks to state health plan

The state Board of Community Health has called a special meeting for Monday to discuss possible tweaks to the State Health Benefits Plan, the health insurance plan that covers more than 600,000 teachers, state employees and their dependents.

The meeting was called at the request of Gov. Nathan Deal, who’s catching criticism from numerous state employees and teachers over major changes in the health plan, which shifted under the administrative control this year of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia.

Teachers and employees are complaining about what they say are increased costs under the new plan structure, as well as limitations on the network of physicians and hospitals they can use.

Deal, who faces primary and general election opposition this year in his campaign for reelection, wants to avoid riling up the large population covered by the State Health Benefits Plan.  He indicated earlier this week there might be some changes in it.

“We will have an announcement very soon about some proposed changes to the state health benefit plan that we think will address some of the concerns that teachers and state employees have experienced,” he told reporters Thursday.

There are not going to be major changes in the structure of the plan.  Blue Cross Blue Shield has a signed contract that is good for the entire 2014 plan year.

DCH Commissioner Clyde Reese may try to persuade Blue Cross Blue Shield to widen the network of providers it will work with, along with bringing in another health insurance carrier in 2015 to give employees and teachers more options.

Deal and his aides blame the cost increases in the State Health Benefits Plan on the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act.

“It’s not the governor’s office you should call, it’s the White House,” said Deal’s communications director, Brian Robinson.

Tim Sweeney, a healthcare analyst with the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, said there were other factors in the cost increases besides Obamacare.

“The big change the state made was moving to this high-deductible HRA (health reimbursement account) model, and the decision to move entirely away from the former model was not a requirement of the ACA,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney noted that under the new contract, the state was “not just going from two (insurance) carriers to one, but going from two carriers to a different carrier.”

Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) introduced a bill Friday, SB 328, that would require the community health board after 2014 to “contract with at least two vendors for the purpose of providing at least two health care benefits plans.”

Although the bill does not have enough support to be adopted by the Senate, it touched off a lively exchange of comments between Republican senators, who blamed the plan’s problems on Obamacare, and Democrats who put the blame on state government.

“The ACA had nothing to do with the choice of administrators for the state health plan,” said Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta). “It sure didn’t sign a contract with one insurance company.”

© 2014 by The Georgia Report


Tags: Blue Cross Blue Shield , Clyde Reese , DCH board , Nan Orrock , Nathan Deal , State Health Benefits Plan