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House panel approves changes to state employee health insurance program

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A House panel OK’d a proposed committee bill Tuesday aimed at tweaking the state-employee health insurance program.

The House Health & Human Services Committee approved the bill (PCB HHS 17-01), which, among other things, would lead to the state plan offering four different levels by 2020. The idea, said Rep. Jason Brodeur, is similar to one that has been heard at some point over the seven different legislative sessions.

“It’s a way to return some consumerism to health care, which I believe will help everyone have access and return to costs,” he said.

Under the proposal, the Department of Management Services would be required to contract with at least one company that provides online health care price and quality information, including the average price paid for health care services and providers.

Beginning in 2020, the bill would allow state employees to pick a health insurance plan from one of four benefit levels. Under the proposal, if the state’s contribution for a premium is more than the cost of the plan selected by an employee, employees can use the remainder to fund a flexible spending arrangement or health savings plan; purchase additional benefits; or increase salary.

That provision left some members concerned that employees would opt for the lower plans, so they could get more money, but then not have enough coverage in case of an emergency.

Some Democrats also expressed concern that now might not be the time to make changes to health plans, especially since federal health care law is in flux under the new administration.

“I don’t think given the landscape that we’re facing with significant changes with the Affordable Care Act now is when we should be doing this bill,” said Rep. Lori Berman.

Supporters of the proposal called it innovative, and Rep. David Santiago said it allows “people to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to health care like they haven’t been before.”

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