Enrollment in new state insurance plans offered through the Office of Group Benefits is lagging as a Sunday deadline approaches.
The Jindal administration reports that 61 percent of active employees and 42 percent of retirees had enrolled in one of the five new plans as of Tuesday. The plans offer more coverage options, but usher in higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for members.
About 230,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their family members are covered under the state health insurance program.
The Jindal administration announced a series of major plan changes in September to stabilize the finances of the state health insurance program. The program’s once healthy $500 million-plus reserves had dwindled to less than half that in just over two years and continue to be eaten up as medical claims exceed premiums coming in.
“As we near the end of the enrollment period, many people are still deciding which plan option to choose,” Group Benefits chief executive officer Susan West said. “We will continue our aggressive education campaign throughout the final week … to help our members make the best choice for them.”
Active employees who do not make a choice by the deadline will be automatically enrolled in a low-premium plan that offers employer contributions to offset out-of-pocket costs. Retirees who don’t enroll by Sunday will remain in the plan most comparable to their current health insurance. The plan coverage begins in March.
Meghan Parrish, a spokeswoman for the Division of Administration, said people are signing up every hour. “The numbers are changing as we speak,” Parrish said.
She said many agencies’ Human Resource departments typically hold all signups and send them at one time at the end.
Frank Jobert, executive director of the Retired State Employees Association, said the enrollment numbers are “shocking to say the least.”
“It could be just overall confusion. There’s a lot of information to consider and understand,” Jobert said. He also said it is in people’s nature to procrastinate.
Open enrollment began Oct. 1 and was scheduled to end Oct. 31. But the enrollment period has been extended twice — first until the end of November because the benefits changes had not gone through a legally required administrative approval process, and then again until Sunday after the administration announced plan revisions about 10 days ago.
None of the benefit changes have been approved through the legally required Administrative Procedures Act, which requires a public comment period, a public hearing as well as the potential for a legislative hearing. The rule changes have been published and a public hearing is scheduled Dec. 29 — three weeks after the enrollment deadline.
Group Benefits members waged a campaign to alleviate some of the program costs being shifted to them, saying they should not be penalized because of the Jindal administration’s financial mismanagement.
State government and school boards pay 75 percent of premium costs for active employees. The changes increase premiums for employees and employers and also require members to pay higher deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance and other out-of-pocket costs.
Bowing to legislative pressure, the administration revised the plan at the eleventh hour to ease some of the added cost to state employees, teachers, retirees and others. It announced the changes Nov. 23 and extended the deadline until Sunday.
Those who had already selected a plan had the opportunity to change.