Insurance costs to rise for state employees

Change in selection date not political, officials say

October 12, 2002|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

State employee health insurance premiums will rise between 5 percent and 22 percent next year, union officials learned yesterday at a meeting called because of rumors that state officials were concealing a cost increase until after the Nov. 5 election.

The rumors began after workers learned that the starting date to change health plans would not be Oct. 1, as in recent years, but Nov. 11 - six days after the general election.

Andrea Fulton, director of the state Office of Personnel Services and Benefits, said the date was changed because of technical problems with an automated telephone system, and because a contract with a life insurance provider was not approved until a week ago.

She said that employees have barraged her office with calls, with many saying they had heard that costs would increase by 50 percent, and that the percentage of total costs paid by workers would be rising. On most plans, workers pay 15 percent to 20 percent of premiums, with the state paying the rest.

Maryland is self-insured for health coverage, meaning the cost of service comes out of the state budget. The proportion paid by employees won't change, Fulton said, although their out-of-pocket costs will increase. "I think the rumors probably had them scared to death," she said.

According to figures released yesterday, employees enrolled in the CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield personal provider family plan will see a premium increase of $10.62 every two weeks (per paycheck), from $68.49 to $79.11.

The CareFirst point-of-service plan will rise $8.40 for a family, from $39.52 to $47.92; other options go up by different amounts. The cost of the state's prescription drug program will rise from $26.67 to $32.06 per paycheck for a family.

"We're not happy with any increase in health care costs for our members and retirees, especially since there had been no increase in employee compensation," said Sally Davies, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92, in a statement yesterday.

The union statement acknowledged that the date change fueled speculation that "massive rate increases were being withheld until after the November election to protect [Lt. Gov.] Kathleen Kennedy Townsend from a negative reaction by state workers."

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