The House and Senate leaders of a task force charged with addressing soaring school employee health insurance rates said Tuesday (June 17) they believe they will have the votes they need this week for Gov. Mike Beebe to call a special session.
“Assuming we have the votes, (a special session) will happen in the next couple of weeks,” said Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, the chair of the task force.
Talk Business & Politics first reported on the potential special session and accompanying legislation one week ago.
Two bills have been written and were circulated to the House today. One would remove part-time school employees who work less than 30 hours from eligibility. An earlier draft included part-time state employees, but Hendren said there aren’t enough part-time state employees to generate savings.
In the other bill, employee spouses who have health coverage through another group health plan would not be eligible for school and state benefits. The bill also would require verification of dependent eligibility. It would require employees with high-deductible plans to be enrolled in a health savings account. It also would provide more flexibility in covering gastric bypass and other bariatric surgeries.
“The governor is satisfied with them. Now it’s about the vote count,” said Gov. Mike Beebe’s communications director, Matt DeCample.
Legislative leaders believe they already have that count. Hendren said he hoped to have enough Senate votes by Wednesday to justify calling a session. Rep. Harold Copenhaver, D-Jonesboro, said, “I am confident the House will have enough confirmed members in support of the legislation by the end of the week to move forward with a special session in the near future.”
The task force was created after the Legislature met in a special session in October to address soaring public school employee health insurance rates. Legislators poured $43 million in one-time money into the plan and added another $36 million annually from other sources as a quick fix.
The provision affecting part-time employees is controversial, as it will affect cafeteria workers, school bus drivers and others. Hendren said options are limited. While the Employee Benefits Division has made some changes administratively, they won’t be sufficient to ward off rate increases for teachers without changes in the law.
“I think when people understand that the alternative to a hard decision is a whole lot worse outcome for our teachers, people are going to see that we need to do this,” he said.