Start Date Shifted For State Worker Health Changes

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration announced Monday that it will refund nearly $4.5 million in increased costs that state employees paid under changes to their health insurance program.

         The start date of insurance program changes in the Office of Group Benefits will be retroactively adjusted from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30, the day the Jindal administration issued emergency regulations governing the changes.

         Several lawmakers questioned whether the prescription drug and medical coverage adjustments were legal without the filing of the emergency regulations. The attorney general's office said the Jindal administration had skipped required legal steps in making changes to the health plans.

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         The regulations involve public notice, a comment period and legislative oversight.

         Susan West, CEO of the Office of Group Benefits, said the Jindal administration still doesn't believe the filing was required but wanted to respond to the legislative concerns.

         Retired state employees had threatened to sue over the issue.

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         "We heard the financial concerns of our members and legislators and are willing to work with them by delaying the impact of these changes," Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said in a statement.

         The Office of Group Benefits covers 230,000 current state workers, public school employees, retirees and their dependents. Changes that took effect Aug. 1 included new medication restrictions and requirements for prior authorization for certain medical procedures.

         The agency said it would reimburse employees and retirees who paid increased costs during the two month period before the revised start date. To get their money back, some people will automatically receive reimbursements, while others will have to submit requests through forms posted on the group benefits website.

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         In addition to those benefit reductions, the Jindal administration is rewriting all health plan options available through the insurance program, to address the program's financial troubles and the rising costs of health care.

         Those changes, set to begin in January, include higher deductibles and co-pays and have drawn widespread criticism from workers and retirees.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte

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