Thursday, October 9, 2003

Patton order to equalize state workers' health premiums

Otherwise employees in 21 counties faced higher rates for dependents

The Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Some 12 percent of the state employees, teachers and retirees in the state health plan could benefit from an executive order issued by Gov. Paul Patton.

Employees in 14 counties seeking coverage for dependents would have had to pay slightly higher rates and those in seven counties would have had to pay much higher rates for their health insurance.

Monthly out-of-pocket costs for those in the seven counties who select family coverage would drop by $224.76 per month - from $654 to $426.24, compared with those in the rest of the state.

The order could affect 21,000 of the 175,000 employees and retirees in the plan.

"It's a matter of equity - our employees ought to pay the same price for the same benefit," Patton said. "We've provided the same benefit from county to county for those with single coverage; we ought to do the same for those who seek coverage for dependents."

Six state legislators representing five of those counties in northeastern Kentucky filed suit in U.S. District Court two weeks ago saying the state's insurance offerings discriminated against state workers and teachers in those counties.

One of those legislators, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Charlie Borders, said Tuesday that Patton has "addressed a discrepancy that would have employees in a few counties paying a couple thousand more a year for the same coverage available to everyone else."

As to whether the lawmakers will withdraw their lawsuit, Borders said, "The governor has taken care of a big immediate problem. But we'll have to study his order and review the whole situation before making a decision on where we go now."

State government negotiates bids with private health carriers to insure its members on a county-by-county basis. And the state picks up the total cost for the least expensive option available for single coverage. But the bidding process, and the fact carriers are not required to bid in all counties, results in discrepancies in available rates when employees seek to insure their spouse or children.

State employees and teachers covered by state health insurance had until Friday to enroll in a health plan for 2004. But under Patton's order the enrollment period has been re-opened until Oct. 31 for those who work in the 21 affected counties. The seven counties where employees face much higher monthly out-of-pocket costs are: Greenup, Boyd, Lawrence, Carter, Elliott, Henderson and Union.

The original options resulted in smaller cost discrepancies for family coverage in 14 counties: Bath, Bourbon, Clay, Calloway, Campbell, Graves, Harlan, Jackson, Marshall, Menifee, Morgan, Pike, Rockcastle and Rowan.

Mary Lassiter, acting state budget director, said it is impossible to say how much Patton's order would cost the state until employees in the 21 counties have selected a coverage option. "Estimates are that this would cost $2.4 million to $3 million," she said.

Patton said the additional cost will be a small increase in an annual state expense of about $500 million.

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