Under the Dome

Thousands of NC public workers pay nothing to get health insurance. That’s changing.

About 15,000 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees participate in the State Health Plan. Those participants will see their health plan premiums increase in 2018. In this file photo, fifth grade teacher Stephanie Stanic hard at work in her class at Nations Ford Elementary Thursday afternoon where CMS held a press conference and presentation of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg-Schools 2016-2017 Preliminary End-of-Year Results.
About 15,000 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees participate in the State Health Plan. Those participants will see their health plan premiums increase in 2018. In this file photo, fifth grade teacher Stephanie Stanic hard at work in her class at Nations Ford Elementary Thursday afternoon where CMS held a press conference and presentation of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg-Schools 2016-2017 Preliminary End-of-Year Results. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

In the past, about 60,000 North Carolina public workers have paid nothing for employee-only health plan premiums.

But in 2018, they will pay $300 a year – $25 a month – for the same plan, according to the State Treasurer’s Office.

State workers can begin choosing their health plan for next year starting on Sept. 30.

That increase in cost for employees who only insure themselves – and not their families – is aimed at covering increased costs for the state health plan.

Overall, state health insurance plans insure more than 700,000 N.C. residents. In Mecklenburg County alone, more than 19,000 public workers at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, UNC Charlotte and other public entities participate in the program.

Increasing premium costs is more transparent than “playing games” with other insurance costs that workers don’t notice, said N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell. For example, in the past premiums would stay the same but copays and deductibles would increase, he said.

The teachers, law enforcement officers, college employees and other public workers, who will go from paying nothing to $300 a year, participate in what’s called the state’s 70/30 plan and insure only themselves – not a spouse or children.

The 70/30 plan requires that after workers hit their deductible and copays, the costs of medical services is split 70 percent paid by the state and 30 percent by the patient, until the total coinsurance maximum is reached, according to Treasurer’s office.

Meanwhile, another 11,000 workers who have a “consumer-driven” plan and only insure themselves also do not currently pay a premium. But that plan is disappearing next year, meaning they will have to chose another plan that will cost them.

They could choose the 70/30 plan or an 80/20 plan that will cost $600 per year, up from $180.

The projected rates are based on workers completing a tobacco assessment. Smokers who don’t agree to try to quit will pay more.

While employee-only coverage is increasing, family coverage will stay about the same.

For example, annual premiums for family coverage under the 80/20 plan will cost workers $8,640 in 2018, down from $8,685 in 2017.

It was important to keep the cost of family plans the same because those plans are already not affordable, Folwell said. North Carolina has one of the lowest family plan participation rates in the United States because the plan is not affordable, he said.

“It’s the right thing when you hire a trooper or a teacher or a DOT worker, it’s the right thing to do that when you offer them a benefit that they can afford it,” Folwell said..

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

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