Friday, October 1, 2004

State workers sound off on health insurance plan

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Kerri Cope, an environmental technologist for the state, says her medication and exercise regimen have helped her survive since a kidney transplant 11 years ago.

But now, she's worried a state health insurance plan for next year may prevent her from being able to afford the latest available medication.

"If my family has $100 left over at the end of the month, we're doing very well," Cope, 31, told state lawmakers, while choking back tears.

That's about how much more Cope said she expects to pay in prescription costs next year under the governor's proposed state health insurance plan.

A committee of House and Senate lawmakers, gearing up for a special session next week about the issue, heard similar stories Thursday from a procession of teachers, state employees and others who would be affected by the plan.

Fletcher, who is on a European economic development trip this week, recently announced an overhaul of the state's health plan.

The announcement spurred public outcry, and Kentucky Education Association officials voted to strike less than a week before the November elections if the current benefits aren't restored.

The state health plan covers 229,000 workers, retirees and dependents.

Opponents say participants are facing increases in their annual deductibles, premiums, pharmaceutical costs and other out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Rep. Harry Moberly, chairman of the House appropriations committee, said House Democrats were looking at an alternative plan that would restore at least some of this year's benefits in 2005.

A possibility would be to substitute one of the offerings for next year with one of the more popular plans offered this year, Moberly said.

Then, lawmakers would overhaul the entire system for 2006, he said.

"Our goal is to provide ... one plan that's very equivalent to current benefits," Moberly told reporters.

Lawmakers in both parties have a "great deal of desire" to fix the health insurance plan, said Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly, R-Springfield.

"I think we're all aware of the problems as the testimony was there to reiterate that," Kelly said.

"And, the question is: how do we pay for the very high cost of providing health insurance," he said.

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