State Politics

Get your health insurance from the NC state health plan? Here’s some good news.

The trustees of the North Carolina State Health Plan voted to keep 2019 premiums frozen at their 2018 rates, saving money for state employees, retirees and their families.
The trustees of the North Carolina State Health Plan voted to keep 2019 premiums frozen at their 2018 rates, saving money for state employees, retirees and their families. TNS

State employees won’t have to pay anything extra for health insurance next year.

The news comes after premiums for many state employees rose this year and as premiums for private insurance plans across the country, including plans bought through the Affordable Care Act, are expected to rise again next year.

The main lobbying group for state workers, the State Employees Association of North Carolina, praised the decision, which was backed by N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell.

“This action is great news for state employees, retirees and their families,” Robert Broome, SEANC’s executive director, said in a press release. “SEANC appreciates the willingness of Treasurer Folwell and the members of the State Health Plan to work with us.”

The trustees in charge of the State Health Plan voted Tuesday evening to keep insurance premiums frozen at their current rates. The premiums were already free for some retirees and cost anywhere from $25 to $720 a month for other retirees as well as for active state employees, depending on how many family members they included on their plan and how much coverage they bought.

More than 700,000 North Carolinians get their insurance from the state, either as state employees, retired government workers or dependents. That’s about 200,000 more North Carolinians than are enrolled in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

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“This is the perfect example of using our ‘largeness’ to hold down costs for teachers, law enforcement and other hard-working state and local employees,” Folwell said in a press release.

The decision to keep premiums at the same levels for 2019 comes even as the cost of health care has been steadily increasing, due in part to rising hospital and prescription drug costs and Americans’ longer lifespans.

Just since 2015, North Carolina’s spending on the State Health Plan has increased more than 14 percent — about triple the pace of inflation.

But although state employees won’t have to personally pay more for health care next year, the decision to keep their premiums frozen was not free for state taxpayers, since health care costs are expected to rise yet again. The new budget the legislature passed in June increased state spending on benefits, including the health plan, at a cost of millions of dollars a year.

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Retired state workers got additional good news in that new budget, which also included a 1 percent bonus payment as a cost-of-living supplement to their monthly pensions.

The increased spending on benefits in this year’s budget cost approximately $10 million just to cover both current and retired employees of public schools, community colleges and universities. Other state agencies also required millions more for their own benefits increases.

The state also spent millions of dollars giving teachers raises of about 6 percent, on average, and by giving other state employees raises that ranged from 2 percent to 28 percent.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran
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