Retirees get reprieve on picking coverage

December 04, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

Thousands of retired state workers are getting an additional three weeks to decide whether to change their health coverage from an insurance plan which will nearly double in cost beginning next year.

But the nearly 40,000 active state employees enrolled in the plan were not granted an extension, and they will still have to decide by Wednesday.

The state held to the deadline even though scores of workers complained this week that they had yet to receive information detailing changes in the plan.

"Even if the affected employees received their materials today, they would only have six days to review it, have their questions answered, make a decision and turn in their forms by deadline," said John F.X. O'Brien, executive director of the Maryland Classified Employees Association, in a prepared statement Thursday.

"In its haste to rectify a fiasco . . . the state has made a bad situation worse," said Mr. O'Brien, whose organization represents 25,000 state employees.

The state began sending out the insurance enrollment information Nov. 22. Yesterday, James B. Rowland, a spokesman for the state budget office, said the Dec. 8 deadline was extended to Dec. 30 for retirees because many live out of state and don't have any other way to get the information.

He said the state did not extend the same courtesy to active workers because they can contact the health coordinator in their agencies and get the information.

Health insurance has been a sore spot between the state government and its workers since October when word leaked out of a proposed fivefold increase in the premiums for the most popular insurance program -- the Preferred Provider Network. The increase was designed, in part, to cover a secretly growing deficit within the overall state health insurance program.

After a flood of angry phone calls from state workers and much hand-wringing, the state scaled the increase back.

Each year, state employees traditionally have a 30-day period to change their insurance if they want. The state trimmed that period to 16 days this year because it took time to prepare new materials when the proposed rates were changed.

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