Gov. Mike Beebe will call a special session to begin on Thursday (Oct. 17) at 3 p.m. to address a shortfall in the state public employees health insurance program.
State lawmakers are expected to tackle short-term and long-term solutions to shore up a $53 million deficit in the insurance fund. Without changes, many Arkansas public school teachers could see premiums rise above 50%. The public school health insurance plan, which provides coverage for roughly 47,000 teachers and school personnel in Arkansas, has been troubled for months.
UPDATED INFO: The special session will begin Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m., and should conclude by the end of the day on Saturday, according to a statement from Gov. Mike Beebe’s office.
"I would not be issuing this call if we hadn't already seen extraordinary bipartisan efforts to help our teachers and other public-school employees in Arkansas," Beebe said in the statement. "After dozens of meetings with legislators, district officials, teachers and other involved parties, we have a solution that may not please every individual group, but will help alleviate the spike in insurance rates and shore up this insurance program."
The call includes bills that will, if approved:
• Provide $43 million in one-time surplus funds to reduce the 2014 rate increase from 50% to 10%.
• Redirect future savings from the Educational Facilities Partnership Fund to provide long-term relief to the plan.
• Modify the requirements for Teacher Professional Development to provide long-term relief to the plan.
• Establish a task force to study and revise the Public School Employees Plan for future sustainability.
• Clarify the distribution of State revenue generated by the Uniform Rate of Tax, as advised by the Arkansas Supreme Court, and direct some of that revenue to the Educational Facilities Partnership Fund.
Those solutions include:
• A $43 million injection of funding from the state’s surplus plus a 10% insurance premium increase for teachers and public school employees in the short-term.
• Long-term solutions include restructuring the insurance oversight board, raising plan deductibles, and steering more people into bronze-level plans, which cost less.
Beebe told reporters Wednesday (Oct. 16) that the Senate now has joined the House with the advance support needed to pass an appropriation providing additional funding to the teacher insurance plan.
The additional estimated $43 million in funding for 2014 will help prevent 48% premium increases for public school employees.
A supermajority of 27 State Senators and 75 House members are needed to approve appropriations bills to right the funding for the public school employees fund.
According to Beebe, 29 Senators support the proposals developed to address the insurance crisis and 77 House members are also in support.
Beebe announced Sept. 23 a one-month delay for insurance enrollment. The date moved from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1.