Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Teachers call off walkout

Legislators pass cheaper health-insurance plan

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - A statewide teachers organization voted to call off a threatened strike Tuesday night, hours after the General Assembly met the group's 2005 state health insurance demands.

Kentucky Education Association officials, meeting in Frankfort, voted unanimously to rescind their call for a statewide teachers' strike Oct. 27 - less than a week before the November election.

"We have made history," KEA president Frances Steenbergen said after the decision.

Teachers and other school workers in Northern Kentucky and across the state protested Sept. 27 over Gov. Ernie Fletcher's health plan.

The workers, concerned about deductibles, premiums, prescription-drug costs and other out-of-pocket expenses, had marches and rallies.

Lawmakers ended their special session by sending the governor a health insurance plan that sweetens state health benefits for about 229,000 active and retired public school employees and state workers.

Fletcher, who was traveling at the time the bill passed, signed the bill into law when he returned to the Capitol shortly after 10 p.m., spokesman Doug Hogan said.

Among other things, the plan - which both the Senate and House gave final approval Tuesday - lowers premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses for people covered by the state plan. Employee premiums would be standardized across the state.

The plan - estimated to cost the state about $172 million from its general fund - also approved a change that would lock in $2.4 billion in basic school funding known as Support Education Excellence in Kentucky, or SEEK funding for state schools.

Enquirer reporter Mike Rutledge contributed.

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