State announces new choices for 2015 benefits plan

Addressing months of controversy and protests, state officials Tuesday announced that state employees and school personnel will get a wider array of insurers and choices in their 2015 health plan.


Some employees and teachers have been vocal in their criticism of their current plan options since Jan. 1, when the plan took effect. The changes made for 2014, plus the use of just one insurer, sparked widespread complaints about a lack of choice of insurance providers and higher health care costs.

The State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) covers more than 650,000 state employees, teachers, other school personnel, retirees and dependents. Dissatisfaction among these members can be a political force in an election year such as this.

The Department of Community Health, which runs the SHBP, said Tuesday that UnitedHealthcare has been chosen to offer members the options of a statewide HMO, a high-deductible health plan and — for retirees — a statewide Medicare Advantage plan.

A second new insurer, Kaiser Permanente, will offer an in-network-only plan in metro Atlanta, Community Health said.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, currently the only insurer providing medical plans this year, next year will give SHBP members three health reimbursement arrangement choices and a statewide Medicare Advantage to retirees, along with a statewide HMO option.

“The Department of Community Health has provided plan members with more new choices to find the health care plan that’s best for their families,’’ said Gov. Nathan Deal in a statement. “We appreciate the cooperation of Blue Cross Blue Shield on contractual issues so that we can expand the number of options available to plan members.”

United, in particular, was vocal in its displeasure about the award to Blue Cross for the current plan year. The Minnesota-based insurer swiftly appealed the Blue Cross win, calling the contracting process “state-sponsored bid-rigging.’’

Community Health, which runs the SHBP, strongly denied that characterization and dismissed the appeal. United filed a complaint about the bidding in Fulton County Superior Court.

Kaiser will return to the SHBP for the first time in several years.

“We are excited to again have the opportunity to be offered to state employees,” said Beverly Thomas, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente of Georgia. “J.D. Power has ranked Kaiser Permanente highest in member satisfaction among commercial health plans in Georgia and the Carolinas for five years in a row. We look forward to caring for our state’s employees.”

The state agency said Tuesday that the SHBP is working to finalize the 2015 plan designs and premiums, which will be presented to and voted on by the board of Community Health in August.

The open enrollment period will be held Oct. 27 through Nov. 14, and the new health plan year will start on Jan. 1, 2015.

The protests against the current year’s plan, which erupted almost immediately, included the creation of a Facebook page to voice complaints about the 2014 changes. Thousands joined the group. The governor’s office was deluged with phone calls, and some critics rallied outside the state Capitol.

The board of Community Health, responding to the early criticism, made a quick fix to a co-pay system from co-insurance, where patients pay a percentage of the costs of a health service. Still, that move upset medical providers, who say they are forced to collect the co-pays from patients.