Some Teachers Are Not Happy With the State Health Plan

January 12, 2014 11:20 am

by Jon Richards · 18 comments

A movement is building among some Georgia teachers and state workers who oppose the new state employees health plan, which went into effect January 1st. The AJC has the details:

Thousands of Georgia teachers and state employees have come down with a serious case of sticker shock from their new health care plans since the start of the year.

To save big money, the state decided to go with a single company to manage the health care of 650,000 teachers, state employees, retirees and their dependents. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia took over the $3 billion program Jan. 1.

Since the switch, which is not related to the Affordable Care Act, state officials have gotten an earful from teachers and employees who are suddenly having to pay more for the same services they received under the old plan. They’re complaining about higher deductibles, new networks that don’t always include their old doctors and the elimination of copayments, which means they have to pay more upfront — sometimes a lot more — when they or their families seek treatment.

Ashley Cline, whose husband is a Cherokee County educator, set up a Facebook group where teachers can air their grievances. The group now has over 7,300 members. She also started a petition which she promises to send to Governor Deal. The petition, which went live last night, now has over 500 signatures.

The state maintains that changes in insurance benefits this year had to be made because the old health insurance plan was running huge deficits. The new plan is expected to save over $200 million annually. It reflects a trend among large employers to make employees more aware of the cost of health care.

Will this winter of discontent have any effect on the upcoming gubernatorial race? Governor Roy Barnes found out the hard way that it’s not a good idea to upset Georgia’s teachers, who worked to defeat him in 2002. On the other hand, if a pay raise for educators is approved this year, it could go a long way to temper their anger.

peachpundit (@peachpundit) January 12, 2014 at 11:20 am

New post: Some Teachers Are Not Happy With the State Health Plan http://t.co/3Vm5hPXlEA #gapol

Patrick T. Malone January 12, 2014 at 11:41 am

Unfortunately teachers are just realizing the realities of healthcare today. The rest of America is feeling the same pain as teachers. Socialists insure that pain is divided equally. Absolutely disingenuous of the AJC to claim unrelated to Obamacare.

John Konop January 12, 2014 at 1:53 pm

What is your solution?

Chris Huttman January 12, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Actually large group health insurance costs rose in the last year by the lowest percentage since 1997 – which was during the HMO period where costs were held down but consumers revolted.

From an actuarial standpoint, the new state plan is similar in coverage and cost as a large group plan. The old costs for the old plans were generous – many teachers were paying about the same as six-figure salaried employees at large companies (who typically have a large % of their healthcare covered as a benefit).

The Blue Cross plan in and of itself isn’t the problem – the problem is that teachers haven’t seen a real payraise in years and by making them pay more for their healthcare they are effectively getting a paycut. For new teachers, the benefit is similar to what they’d receive in a comparable private sector job making about the same amount of money.

But many teachers won’t see it that way. To try to blame it on Obamacare is tacky. Any pool of 650,000 employees will pay very close to the absolute minimum that the coverage costs whether they have one administrator or multiple ones. Obamacare hasn’t changed that for large group plans, and with the exception of a few benefits added and removal of lifetime and annual caps which might add something minor like 5% of the costs, Obamacare really has nothing to do with this plan.

Three Jack January 13, 2014 at 3:54 pm

To John’s question, there is no solution as long as we are forced to consider healthcare a right. Since that seems to be the consensus, then teachers and most other state/local government employees will join the rest of us in suffering the consequences.

Welcome to redistribution world, maybe govt workers will get pissed enough to oppose this healthcare nonsense and we can finally put an end to this misguided effort.

@TaraPottsMEd January 12, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Some Teachers Are Not Happy With the State Health Plan — Peach Pundit http://t.co/t42rBgoC41

RJ7hills January 12, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Teachers do realize the rising cost of healthcare, but the issues at hand are not just complaining because rates have risen or deductibles have changed. We have experienced that for several years now, just as others have. The main issue is that the Dept. of Community Health committee limited this group of state employees (some 650,000 people, NOT just teachers) to only one carrier with exhorbitant changes in costs to the insured. This group has gathered a bit of information (and continues to gather more) – for example, The Board of Regents and the Unversity System of Georgia employees were offered several options for their coverage, all of which included better coverage, lower cost to the insured, and lower premiums than the single carrier we were saddled with. Patrick – I can’t see how that is related to ACA, seems like poor research and negotiations on the part of DCH. John – a possible solution would be to offer the rest of the state employees the same options the University System employees had. Thanks for the opportunity, Rance

John Konop January 12, 2014 at 5:18 pm

I wonder why the state cannot pool all government workers together to lower cost and increase option, not just education people?

FormerRepub January 12, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Fortunately, teachers are too smart to fall for Deal’s scapegoating. They know this change of providers has nothing to do with the ACA. They know that United Healthcare is NOT instigating their dissatisfaction. Go to their website (T.R.A.G.I.C) and read some of the situations they are now in. We are merely 12 days into the new plan. Just wait until more employees find out in the coming weeks how Deal is trying to save the state money on the backs of teachers and state employees with far inferior coverage. The governor may be in for a surprise… if not in the Republican primary then maybe in November. You won’t believe the mountains teachers can move when they are united.

Doug Deal January 12, 2014 at 3:57 pm

My wife is on this plan, and it does not seem all that bad. When I compare it to my plan it is ridiculously cheap.

Lea Thrace January 13, 2014 at 9:52 am

Curious here. Cheap as in same amount of coverage/comparable deductibles for lower price or just a lower price?

Chuck Shiflett January 12, 2014 at 4:21 pm

As a former board of education chairman and the husband of a teacher, I can tell you first hand this new plan design is causing severe financial hardship for many of those covered. Many teachers could find higher paying jobs in other fields in the private sector, but good health insurance and a decent retirement plan have kept them serving our public school children. With no salary increases for many years, coupled with rising health insurance and retirement plan deductions from their pay… this new insurance plan is just another slap in the face.

Personal example: I need to have outpatient surgery to remove a cyst which is causing me severe pain… With the new higher deductibles and the increased out of pocket max, this procedure will personally cost me several thousand dollars above what is paid by insurance. I would like to use the new HRA dollars to help offset a few hundred $ of this cost, but to earn all of the HRA dollars requires me to complete some of the silliest wellness mandates I have ever seen. One task that I MUST complete is to tell 3 people how proud I am that I show up for my medical appointments… lol. Dead serious! Now, lets add in another change to the health plan… in the past we had our standard Tier 1, 2, & 3 co-pays when filling medications… we still have those, but now all prescriptions are first paid for out of the HRA dollars… NOT at the $20 or $50 or $90 co-pay… but at full retail. I currently have a prescription I need to fill, but instead of being charged the co-pay my HRA dollars will be wiped out to the tune of $1,600… leaving no HRA dollars for my upcoming surgery. So I have chosen to suffer and not fill the prescription until after my surgery 2 months from now so I will still have my HRA dollars for the surgery. At that point I can get the medication for the $20 co-pay.

This new health plan is going to force people to skip needed healthcare appointments, diagnostics, and medications… resulting in higher healthcare costs down the road and lower quality of life now.

NorthGeorgiaGirl January 13, 2014 at 6:38 am

The thing that upsets me the most about this new health plan is that we have basically lost our HSA. Not because our deductibles have really changed, but because they call it a bronze plan instead of a high deductible plan, and there is no provision for contributing to an HSA like we used to have. Just a little change in name has really changed things for us. At least with an HSA we could save a little money tax free and have it for emergencies.

We don’t go to the doctor very often. We have kids who rarely go to the doctor. But we have loved using our HSA for out of pocket costs for orthodontics, routine wisdom tooth extractions, and vision needs like glasses and contacts. Now we are in limbo with the money remaining in our HSA, and no one can tell us what (if anything) we can do with the account. I know it is still ours (that is the beauty of it compared to an HRA, totally in control of the consumer), but whether we can do anything other than use it up remains to be seen.

jiminga January 13, 2014 at 10:46 am

Welcome to Obamacare, Chuck.

saltycracker January 12, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Folks do get angry when they have a financially unsustainable benefit and takeaways bring it to a really good deal by comparison. Wonder what the reaction would be to keep the old health plan while working and then Medicare, nothing in between if they retire before 65 ? Real screaming !

Harry January 12, 2014 at 11:39 pm

We’ll all be on single payer soon enough.

jiminga January 13, 2014 at 10:44 am

Teachers are supposed to be smart, right? If so, why has it taken until now for them to discover the changes to their plans? All state employees were required to select a new plan under BC/BS months ago, along with discovery of new plans, rates, deductibles, etc. My wife works for the state and we chose the gold plan which kept our old coverage and deductible, but raised the premium 50%. We are both in our late 60′s and really appreciate the new maternity and other coverages required by Obamacare that we don’t need.

Any teacher who is surprised by the new premiums and coverages either never reads the news or is now using this to lobby for a pay raise. I’m pretty sure I know which it is.

taylor January 13, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I hope teachers are smart, but the 149 -page summary plan description that contained significantly more detail than the info available during open enrollment was added to the DCH website on 12/31/13.
https://dch.georgia.gov/documents/summary-plan-description

Regarding the coverage changes mandated by Obamacare, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Often repeated talking points don’t apply in all cases. Do you really think that the SHBP, which provides coverage to teachers and state employees, just added maternity coverage in 2014? It’s been part of the plan for decades. The coverage changes that occurred because of Obamacare are associated with lifetime limits and maintenance of coverage for children until 26 – and these occurred before this year.

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