Wednesday, November 10, 2004

State insurance plan signups go smoothly

Applications still coming at
enrollment period's end

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press


The background: Last month, the General Assembly approved an insurance plan that offered public school employees and state workers better benefits than a version introduced by Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Compared with the governor's plan, the final benefits package offered participants lower premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

The stakes: State officials are trying to enroll about 184,000 participants in the 2005 state health insurance plan. Employees had an open enrollment period from Oct. 25 to Nov. 5. Insurance companies have said they need participant information by Dec. 10 to get insurance cards out by Jan. 1. The state plan covers a total of about 229,000 people.

The latest: State officials have received about 72 percent of the anticipated applications but expect to have more than 90 percent tallied by the end of the week.

FRANKFORT - Administrators have received more than 70 percent of the anticipated applications from public school employees and others seeking to enroll in the 2005 state health insurance plan, as of Tuesday.

Open enrollment for eligible teachers and state employees seeking to sign up for next year's state health insurance ended Friday, meaning paperwork had to be given to insurance coordinators in different agencies across state government. State officials were expecting about 184,000 people - not including dependents - to enroll in next year's plan.

"It must have gone smoothly, because we have not received any complaints - and our members generally let us know when there are problems," said Charles Wells, executive director of the Kentucky Association of State Employees. "It seems as though the state was very accommodating."

State officials were working under a condensed enrollment period trying to process applications in time for participants to get their insurance cards by Jan. 1. Insurance companies have told the state they needed the information by Dec. 10.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher's initial health insurance proposal was met with huge public dissension, and teachers threatened a statewide strike just before the November election if benefits weren't restored. Fletcher called the General Assembly into special session to work only on the plan, which covers about 229,000 people.

Lawmakers avoided a statewide teachers' strike after the legislature approved a new plan that sweetened health insurance options for public school workers and state employees. Fletcher signed the plan into law hours later.

Four insurance companies - CHA Health, Anthem Blue Cross, Bluegrass Family Health and United Healthcare - are carrying the state's health insurance plan next year.

The new plan lowered premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses for people covered by it. Employee premiums across the state were standardized but with rates higher for smokers. Employees who decide to waive their coverage are eligible for flexible spending accounts of $234 per month.

As of Tuesday, the state Department of Employee Insurance had received about 72 percent of the expected applications, Personnel Cabinet spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said. However, some applications submitted within the open enrollment period were still trickling in, she said.

State officials were expecting to receive more than 90 percent of the anticipated applications by this Friday, Whitaker said. Each of those applications has to be manually keyed into the state's system before the information can be forwarded to insurance companies, she said.

"We've been very encouraged by the number of applications we receive daily," Whitaker said.

It was still uncertain how much the state would be paying because of the shortened time frame, Whitaker said. But state officials were trying to "do it as efficiently and effectively as possible," she said.

John Wilkerson, a Kentucky Education Association field office manager, said some school districts had passed out insurance forms to their employees to help expedite the process. But he hadn't heard of people having problems enrolling, Wilkerson said.

"It's going OK. We know there are some anxieties out there," he said. "Trying to do so much within a ... two-week period is quite compressed. Is it doable? We think it is."

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