LITTLE ROCK — Further reducing school employees’ health insurance benefits could be part of a solution to skyrocketing insurance premiums, Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday.
The State and Public School Life and Health Insurance Board voted last month to reduce benefits and raise premiums — by as much as 50 percent for some — for teachers and other school employees starting Jan. 1. Talking to reporters Wednesday, Beebe said further reductions in benefits should be on the table in discussions on how to address the problem.
"That’s an option. Plan changes are an option," he said. "I think everybody’s going to have to share a little bit in this pain — everybody. There’s not a magic bullet that’s going to fix it for everybody."
Beebe said again that he is only prepared to call a special session on the matter if a consensus can be reached in advance on what to do about the problem. He has said that any short-term fix must be tied to a long-term solution.
Other options that Beebe has said are on the table include shifting money from other funds, requiring school districts to put more of the state money they receive into health insurance plans and rolling back tax cuts that the Legislature passed this year and that have not yet taken effect.
He told reporters Wednesday that he has been meeting with legislators and plans to meet with school superintendents on Monday.
"Nothing has crystallized yet, but there are more thoughts and ideas out there," he said.
E.C. Walker, interim executive director of the Arkansas Education Association, the state’s teacher union, said Wednesday the association understands the governor’s position.
"For the long-term solution, we understand that that’s going to be a part of the discussion, changing the benefits," he said. "Obviously our preference would be that they not lower benefits, but when you’re in a crisis you’ve got to talk about whatever the other side wants to talk about."
Richard Abernathy, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, said that "the governor is probably correct that everything should be on the table."
"The difference in the state contribution for health insurance for state employees vs. school employees should be on the table as well. Placing school employees and state employees in the same pool should be on the table. At this point I think everything should be on the table in order to maintain an adequate education," he said.