Governor Mike Beebe announced Tuesday he has called for a special session of the legislature to mitigate prison overcrowding and increases in public school employee health insurance premiums. Proposed changes to the health insurance plan include removing nearly 4,000 part-time workers, reducing eligibility for spouses, and re-directing over $4.5 million in insurance related tax savings from school districts discretionary funds.
Governor Beebe said what comes out of the special session still won’t resolve fundamental problems with increasing premiums.
“They’re still small in the big scheme of things and incremental. If anybody thinks this is the end all, and the cure all, and the be all of all this stuff…I suspect they’ll be dealing with it for a while. What they did in October last year was the biggest help because it was real new money from the state to teacher insurance,” said Beebe.
Similarly Beebe said additional funds to provide 600 new beds for inmates will help better the situation but not solve the underlying issues or meet the current demand for 2,500 more beds.
Republican State Senator Jim Hendren chairs the task force studying public school health insurance and said for most people a projected premium increase of 35 percent will be reduced to 10 percent. The expected 10 percent hike adds to the legislature's efforts in October that also limited a premium hike to 10 percent. Legislative remedies have succeeded in significantly reducing premium increases but still will have resulted in a 20 percent hike from one school year to the next in the event special session legislation passes as expected.
Hendren, from Gravette in northwest Arkansas, said many of the part time workers may find themselves navigating the health insurance marketplace looking for subsidies set up under the Affordable Care Act or utilizing the Private Option – Arkansas’s modification of Medicaid Expansion and also part of the ACA.
Beebe said he’s confident the votes are already in place to pass the legislation in three days – the minimum allowed under law. This is the third special session Beebe has called.
The session begins June 30th. Members will convene in the Old State House since the House of Representatives chamber in the Capitol is under renovation.