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Louisiana lawmakers hold briefing on state worker insurance plan overhaul

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Controversy over health insurance changes planned for Louisiana’s state workers, teachers and retirees is the focus of a hearing Thursday. The House Appropriations Committee will be briefed on the overhaul of insurance plans offered by the Office of Group Benefits or OGB. It covers more than 230,000 people.

CEO Susan West told Red River Radio Wednesday that changes are needed to address the rising cost of health care, but most state workers won’t feel a difference in their wallet.

“We are not expecting members to see significant increases in out-of-pocket costs. Now, granted, there is a very small percentage of members who may reach their out-of-pocket maximums; we saw that 3 percent of that [members] did in prior years. But, the increases will not affect a majority of our members,” West said.

The Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana or APEL says its members need more time to choose a plan. State workers must re-enroll by Oct. 31 or they will be placed in a default plan. A+PEL executive director Keith Courville says it’s a difficult time of year for teachers to digest a 44-page decision guide with many more choices than in the past.

“If you really do your research, you can actually match a plan very well to yourself. There are new health savings account options. There are new health reimbursement accounts where your employer is basically paying down your deductible for you. But, at the same time, if you choose wrong, it can really hurt you,” Courville said.

A+PEL attorney Lauren Nero says OGB’s out-of-pocket cost calculator is a helpful online tool, but it can’t predict all the scenarios that could influence what plan is right for someone.

“Things happen -- especially with teachers who have children. Arms are broken. Tonsils need to be taken out. There are things that you can’t plan for. Your costs may be significantly higher and you may not have planned on that whenever you’re using their calculator,” Nero said.

To that end, West says, OGB is holding 43 enrollment meetings across the state, in addition to 16 webinars, to help people navigate their coverage options. OGB also staffed up its customer service hotline and expanded the hours it will field calls from members who have questions about the new plans.

“I talk to members on a daily basis,” West said. “Once I explain to them the facts regarding the options that are available to them, they are well pleased and I’ve had members say to me that they can now rest more comfortably.”

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.