Dome: SEANC not happy with triple increase in health premiums

FROM STAFF REPORTSFebruary 3, 2013 

The State Employees Association of North Carolina is accusing state Treasurer Janet Cowell of rushing through a State Health Plan that would more than triple premiums.

The proposal, which will be voted on by a health plan board of trustees in the Treasurer’s Office on Monday, was presented to House and Senate leaders and SEANC on Thursday.

According to SEANC legislative affairs director Ardis Watkins, the board originally called for a meeting on Super Bowl Sunday, before rescheduling.

“We had a real problem with that,” Watkins told Dome on Friday. “Our main problem is transparency and openness in the process. When you’re deciding something as significant as a benefit of employment, like the health plan, it’s not something that needs to be rushed.”

Cowell’s office didn’t have a comment on SEANC’s claims, but provided a copy of the proposal. Records posted on the health plan website show the possibility of increasing premiums through surcharges was discussed at the November board meeting. But the final proposal that surfaced a few days ago had not been publicly discussed, SEANC says.

Two years ago, state employees didn’t have to pay premiums at all. That changed in 2011 under action taken by the General Assembly, which also moved the plan to the treasurer’s office where it could be better managed.

Those in the 80/20 plan would see surcharges added for smoking, for not designating a primary care provider and not completing a health assessment. In addition, premiums will increase under the proposal, to more than $1,200 a year by 2016, SEANC says.

There are between 650,000 and 700,000 employed and retired state workers and their dependents enrolled in the plan currently.

Partisan judicial elections

There will be an attempt to make judicial elections partisan again. A pair of Republican senators filed such a bill last week.

Senate Bill 39 would require state all Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, superior and district court judges to run by party affiliation. That used to be the case until 2002, when the Democratic-controlled General Assembly made them nonpartisan, the rationale being that judges should be elected based solely on qualifications and not politics.

Republicans contended that the real motivation was that voters were electing Republican judges.

Sen. Jerry Tillman of Archdale, a retired school administrator, and Sen. Thom Goolsby of Wilmington, a lawyer, are the co-sponsors.

Marriage amendment

The North Carolina Values Coalition has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the definition of marriage that voters solidified in the state constitution last year.

The amicus brief was filed as the Supreme Court takes up California’s marriage amendment and the federal Defense of Marriage Act later this year. The brief seeks to defend the state’s right to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

“A state mandate to affirm same-sex marriage would have an explosive impact on religious persons who could easily treat all individuals with equal respect and dignity but cannot in good conscience endorse or facilitate same-sex marriage,” the brief says in part.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the coalition, said in a statement that her organization filed the brief defending North Carolina’s amendment because Attorney General Roy Cooper has not.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

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