I am not a political letter-writer. While I consider myself somewhat politically active, I seldom get organized enough to actually take time out of my crazy day to send a letter to a politician. And yet, two weeks ago, in the middle of one of my busiest weeks, I paused to send an email. Why?
They were going to take away my health care plan.
The North Carolina State Health Plan Board of Trustees had convened once again, and lately, that means another hike in my insurance premium. But this time it was different. On the table was the removal of the popular Enhanced 80/20 option for the State of North Carolina Employee Health Care Plan. Also on the agenda? Removing spousal coverage, leaving them to fend for themselves in the health care marketplace.
The Enhanced 80/20 plan is fairly popular among North Carolina employees. Currently, 280,000 out of 685,000 are enrolled in it. Basically, the 80/20 plan, while requiring a slightly higher monthly premium, offers a coinsurance payment of 20 percent after a deductible is met. The 80/20 plan, in contrast to the traditional 70/30 plan, has a deductible that is over $350 less and a maximum co-pay of over $1,000 less. And that is for individuals. The real benefits come when you factor in family members as well, where the maximum coinsurance payout is over $4,000 less than the 70/30 plan.
When you think about some NC state employees who live near or below the poverty line, this amount could be the difference between a home and eviction, between a meal and hunger. For me, if something catastrophic happens and I am on the 70/30 instead of the 80/20 plan, I am paying at least $2,000 more out of pocket on top of the $4,000 I will already have to pay (I said the 80/20 plan was better; I didn’t say it was amazing).
Other state employees were not happy about it either. In a letter to the News and Observer, Partha Howell wrote “Now with the proposal to eliminate the 80/20 health plan and eliminating coverage for spouses, the State Health Plan is on its way to becoming the worst state health plan in the country, thanks to Gov. Pat McCrory and the N.C. General Assembly.”
“State workers are already struggling to get by on low wages from paycheck to paycheck,” Larsene Taylor, president of U.E. Local 150 and a health-care technician for the state told the News and Observer. She continues, “Now these drastic changes in our out-of-pocket health care expenses are going to force us to choose between food, paying our light bill, or eviction.”
The State Employees Association of North Carolina rallied their troops in advance of the Board of Trustees vote. Chuck Stone, the Director of Operations for SEANC, delivered remarks to the Board, stating that voting to eliminate either the 80/20 plan or spousal coverage would be a violation of the bylaws of the Board. He encouraged them to delay the vote in order to allow time to put alternative proposals in place.
The Board listened, and postponed the vote until a later date. In a press release, Brad Young, a representative for the Board said, “The State Health Plan looks forward to working with the General Assembly on a solution that will maintain the financial stability of the State Health Plan while providing meaningful benefits to teachers and state employees.”
The push for the removal of these popular policies stems from the mandate by the NC State Legislature for the State Health Plan to reduce costs in the upcoming fiscal year. The money has to come from somewhere, and as of yet, there are not any other solutions on the table. In his statement, Chuck Stone advocated that the Board “chart a new course” rather than continuing to raise premiums and take away benefits. What will that course be? We have until May 1st to come up with another option.