Thursday, October 7, 2004

House panel begins hearings

Health insurance plan investigated

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - A House panel began hearings Wednesday into the role a former insurance company executive, now working with the Fletcher administration, played in developing the state health insurance plan for next year.

The panel was investigating, among other things, the role former CHA Health executive Mark Birdwhistell played in negotiations that led to the state's new health insurance plans. Birdwhistell is now an undersecretary in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

"It's something that we want to look into," said Rep. Charles Geveden, D-Wickliffe. "All I want to do is examine the process, make sure the process was open, above board, that there was not any undue influence."

Geveden, chairman of the House State Government Committee, announced his committee would go forward with the investigation late last month. The attorney general's office is also looking at the matter.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher announced last month drastic changes to the state's health insurance plan, which covers 229,000 retired and active public school and state employees. Participants have argued the governor caught them by surprise with expensive changes.

Teachers have threatened to strike Oct. 27 if the current benefits aren't restored. Calling the situation a "crisis," Fletcher called the General Assembly into a special session, which began Tuesday.

Personnel Secretary Bob Ramsey told the committee Birdwhistell had only given advice to state officials in the early stages of the bidding process.

CHA is one of four insurance companies that were awarded contracts with the state to carry next year's state health insurance plan.

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