Tuesday, October 12, 2004

House readies insurance fix

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - House lawmakers are almost ready to detail elements of proposed legislation aimed at settling Kentucky's problems with health insurance for its public school employees and state workers, House Speaker Jody Richards said.

"It's just very complex. We found out a lot over the weekend and today," Richards said. "I feel very good about it. It's going to be fairly expensive, but I do feel like we're going to accomplish our goals of having a good plan that's cost effective to the state."

Richards, D-Bowling Green, said lawmakers were hoping to have a proposal ready by today or Wednesday.

In a procedural move, House lawmakers on Monday filed a "shell bill" in an attempt to stay on a course that could resolve the matter - and end the General Assembly's special session - by Friday, Richards said.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher earlier announced a plan to substantially overhaul 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, largely in part because participants would have to pay a percentage of their doctor visits and medications.

Current benefits call for set copays.

Under Fletcher's proposal, an employee who makes the state average $36,000 per year and is covered by one of the state's least expensive family plans this year would pay about $430 per month. Next year, a comparable plan - the state's benchmark "Commonwealth Preferred" plan - would cost about $490 a month.

However, their costs could escalate for different reasons.

Teachers have threatened to strike on Oct. 27 - less than a week before the November elections - if the current benefits aren't restored.

Fletcher called the General Assembly into a special session last week to deal with the issue.

Lawmakers have said the administration left them with limited options because the state already had signed contracts with four insurance carriers for next year - CHA Health, Anthem Blue Cross, Bluegrass Family Health and United Healthcare.

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