LITTLE ROCK — Legislative leaders circulated a memo at the state Capitol on Friday outlining short- and long-term options to avert steep increases in insurance premiums for public school teachers and other school employees.

LITTLE ROCK — Legislative leaders circulated a memo at the state Capitol on Friday outlining short- and long-term options to avert steep increases in insurance premiums for public school teachers and other school employees.

Lawmakers are looking for ways to avert a nearly 50 percent increase in premiums recommended by the state Employee Benefits Board this summer, to begin in Jan. 1. Gov. Mike Beebe has said he is open to calling a special session to address the issue, but only if legislators reach a consensus on a long-term solution.

Under the options outlined in the memo circulated Friday, the Legislature would use $36 million to $42 million from the state’s budget surplus in the short term to hold down the projected increase in premiums. With a $36 million infusion, premiums would rise by 16 percent, and by 10 percent if the infusion is $42 million.

Proposals to limit future increases in insurance premiums include dividing the insurance costs between the state, school districts and teachers — it’s now split between districts and teachers — and a number of structural modifications, including preferred-rate premiums for non-tobacco users and for people participating in wellness plans; and requiring deductibles for all plans. The Gold Plan currently has no deductible.

"This is a starting point. This is something we can present to the Legislature, get some feedback and based on this, if we can get some consensus … we’ll have some legislation for the session," said Rep. James McLean, D-Batesville, chairman of the House Education Committee.

"I think members are digesting it and getting a feel for it," McLean said. "We expect some comments over the weekend and early next week, and then based off that, along with comments from the educational stakeholders who have a lot invested in this, we could start building legislation and possibly take this to a special session."

Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, said "there largely is consensus on most of the solutions raised in the memo, so there’s discussion in the Senate now just trying to get understanding on where every body is."

"I feel pretty good that we’re very close having a product we will be able to present in a very short period of time," Dismang said. "I think there will be some obvious tweaks … but I really don’t think there will be any major obstacles that we won’t be able to work through."

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor likes some of the proposals "but some are problematic." He declined to say what specific problems the governor had with the proposals outlined in the memo being circulated.

"There’s still some work to do," DeCample said, adding the governor sees the memo as "a good start, and it is to be complimented, he sees it as a sign of full consensus of the Legislature. He has talked to some legislators who have some disagreements with the memo as well."

In September, Bob Alexander, director of the Employee Benefits Division, told a legislative committee it would take $53 million in new money to keep premium rates at current levels next year.

The rates have been rising for several years because of a lack of funding from the state and local school districts, Alexander said. Also, a $10 million catastrophic claims fund was wiped out by five claims in 2012 and 2013 that each totaled more than $1 million.

The Legislature this year allocated $8 million in end-of-the-year General Improvement Funds to help prop up the teacher insurance benefits program.

Late last month, Beebe announced a one-month delay of the date when teachers can begin signing up for health insurance as lawmakers weighed options to address soaring premiums. The start of the sign-up period was pushed back from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1.

Beebe also said the Employee Benefits Division has told him it needs some direction by Oct. 15 to begin printing insurance application materials.

The long-term proposal, which the memo circulated Friday said was suggested by the governor’s office, would divide the cost three ways — $18 million each between the state, school districts and teachers.

The state’s third would include $10 million from the public school fund, $5 million from an adjustment to the rate allocated for budgeted positions in agency budgets and $3 million from general revenue.

The school district’s third would include $2 million from the professional development categorical fund, $12 million from reducing professional development hours and reallocating supporting funds, and $4 million from facilities funding.

The remaining $18 million would be paid by teachers in increased premiums.

Long-term structural modifications suggested include:

—Restructuring the state Insurance Board by increasing teacher representation and appointments split between governor, Senate pro tem and House speaker.

—Requiring the board to provide more education on plan options.

—Offering referred-rate premiums for non-tobacco users, and for participation in wellness plans.

—Requiring districts to use some of the base funding they receive from the state on teachers’ insurance, regardless of teacher participation rate.

—Requiring deductibles for all plans.

—Offering incentives for the Bronze Plan by allowing districts and the state to contribute to teacher health savings accounts, which is not currently part of the Bronze Plan.

—Establishing a task force on state and public school employee insurance reform to review both the teachers’ and state employees’ plans.

The task force would include experts from the medical, insurance and human resources fields and would look at how changing markets and regulatory conditions affect the insurance plans.

The task force would present its report and recommendations to the Senate and House Insurance and Commerce and Education committees by Sept. 30, 2014.