Teachers, employees face spike in premiums

The state’s health benefits plan is in financial trouble again. This time, it could take a much bigger bite out of the paychecks of hundreds of thousands of the plan’s members.

James Salzer of the AJC reports that schoolteachers, state employees, retirees and school personnel may face increases of up to 67 percent in their health insurance premiums next year, due to a $250 million shortfall in the State Health Benefit Plan.

That plan, which covers more than 650,000 people, has often run into shortfalls, but the program’s reserves and the state Legislature have previously filled the fiscal holes.

But recently, the commissioner of the Department of Community Health expressed concern that the state employee plan had reserves of just $17 million. That’s enough to pay only two to four days of claims, said David Cook, the commissioner. “Most private companies have a month to six weeks’’ of reserves, he said.

And with the Georgia budget as tight as it is, and the health plan’s reserves depleted, state employees may face much larger increases in premiums than the already proposed 10 percent.

Those premiums have steadily climbed in recent years, but state employees have not received cost-of-living increases during that time, the AJC notes.

Gov. Nathan Deal and legislative leaders will have their work cut out for them, in treating this surprise fiscal wound.