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Cowell names new head of state health plan

Mona Moon, who became interim executive administrator of the state health plan in February, has been named the new head of the plan.

"Ms. Moon has an excellent reputation that comes from her 20 years of financial management experience and high level of professionalism," state Treasurer Janet Cowell, who named Moon to the post, said in a statement. "I am confident that she has the expertise and vision we need as we work to improve health outcomes and reduce costs for North Carolina citizens."

Moon joined the health insurance plan for state workers and teachers in August 2008 and most recently was the plan's chief financial officer.Previously she was chief business operations officer for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services' division of medical assistance. She also was principal fiscal analyst for the state legislature's Fiscal Research Division.

SEANC steaming over new State Health Plan proposal

The State Employees Association of North Carolina is accusing state Treasurer Janet Cowell of rushing through a State Health Plan that would more than triple premiums.

The proposal, which will be voted on by a health plan board of trustees in the Treasurer’s Office on Monday, was presented to House and Senate leaders and SEANC on Thursday.

According to SEANC legislative affairs director Ardis Watkins, the board originally called for a meeting on Super Bowl Sunday, before rescheduling.


The new bosses for the State Health Plan named

With the State Health Plan moving to the State Treasurer Janet Cowell's office the first of the year, the treasurer has announced a 10-member board to oversee the plan.

Cowell appointed Paul Cunningham, the dean and senior associate vice chancellor for medical affairs at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and David Rubin, professor emeritus of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Gov. Bev Perdue appointed Virginia Hargett, a physical education teacher at Marshville Elementary School in Union County and G. Genell Moore, vice president of the Carolinas HealthCare System.

Senate leader Phil Berger appointed Noah Huffstetler, managing partner of the Raleigh office of Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, specializing in health care law, administrative law and business and appellate litigation; and Michele Shaw, and officer and general instructor with the Department of Corrections. She is a former officer with the State Employees Association of North Carolina.

House Speaker Thom Tillis appointed Bill Medlin, associate executive director of the Professional Educators of North Carolina and Warren Newton, vice dean for education and chief education officer at the UNC School of Medicine.

Both Cowell and Andy Willis will serve as ex officio members. Willis not will vote, and Cowell will vote only in the case of a tie.

The plan provides health coverage to more than 664,000 teachers, state employees, retirees, state university and community college personnel and their dependents.

GOP and Perdue reach compromise on State Health Plan

Republican leaders at the state legislature say they have reached a compromise with Gov. Bev Perdue on sweeping changes to save the State Health Plan.

According to a media release from Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, the agreement will give State Health Plan administrators the option to use available cash balance reserves in the upcoming fiscal year to offer a free coverage option to active state employees and teachers – at no additional cost to taxpayers.

The cash reserves are higher than previously expected based on recent forecasts, the release said.

“For years, the State Health Plan has been on the verge of financial collapse," Berger, a Republican from Eden, said, according to the release. "Today’s compromise will ensure its future stability and manage health care costs for our teachers and state employees without raising taxes."

The plan, run under a contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina, covers 633,000 state employees, retirees and dependents. 

Budget projections predicted a funding shortfall for the health plan of about $515 million. The governor vetoed the original bill approved by the Republican Controlled legislature, which would have for the first time required state employees to pay a monthly premium for basic coverage.

The Senate Insurance Committee passed the compromise bill Wednesday morning. The full chamber is scheduled to vote on the bill at its 3 p.m. session today.

UPDATE: Perdue's spokeswoman, Chrissy Pearson, said Perdue wanted assurances that a no-premium option would be available because teachers and state employees have not received raises in years.

"Some of those people can't afford more," Pearson said.

Pearson said Perdue met with Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis last last week to come up with a compromise.

She asked for a letter from health plan administrator Jack Walker assuring that there would be enough in the plan's cash reserves to provide an employees-only, no-premium plan next year. 

Walker's letter to Perdue, Tillis, and Berger is dated today.

Pearson said Perdue is prepared to sign both the supplemental bill the Senate is set to vote on today, and the last health plan bill they passed.

State health plan compromise inches along

A state House divided along party lines on Tuesday went along with the revised health insurance plan for state employees that still contains a major sticking point: requiring workers to pay premiums for the basic option for the first time.

The House approved on a 66-53 vote the conference committee compromise that the Senate approved on April 28. Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed an earlier bill over the premiums provision, saying it amounted to a pay cut for teachers, who haven’t had a raise in three years.

House Democrats said this latest version is the result of the Senate leadership running roughshod over the House, which had passed a bill without the premiums on a bipartisan 83-35 vote on April 20. Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat, urged House members to reject the conference report.

Jackson asked his colleagues to stand up to the Senate and send a message “that on occasion they have to compromise. … You need to give a little bit; you can’t just take all the time.”

Rep. Winkie Wilkins, a Durham Democrat who was on the joint conference committee, pointed out that he refused to sign the committee report.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican, said it was the best plan that could be accomplished. “No,  it’s not perfect,” he said. “But then it never was going to be perfect.”

A spokeswoman for Perdue on Tuesday said the governor wasn’t in a position to say how she’ll react to this latest bill because she was was too angry over the Senate’s targeted cuts in education that were announced earlier in the day. “She’ll fight for the teachers,” said Chrissy Pearson, “but there’s a much bigger fight for the teachers ahead.”

At his weekly meeting with reporters this morning, Senate leader Sen. Phil Berger said he was still waiting to hear from the governor if she thought a compromise was possible. Berger said Perdue's failure to sign the bill has cost the state $28 million, referring to premiums that will not be collected until a plan is in place.

Health plan ... waiting on the gov

When we last checked in on the state health plan saga, the Senate on Thursday approved another version of the bill that Gov. Bev Perdue had earlier vetoed. But this version still contains the provision that she found objectionable: requiring active workers to pay a premium for the first time for one plan option.

This morning, Sen. Phil Berger, the Senate leader, told reporters Perdue told him on Thursday that she needed the weekend to think about it. He said he hasn't heard back from her yet.

The latest Senate version was scheduled to be taken up by the House today, but it was skipped over so that chamber could get right to a long day debating the budget.

No public word yet from the governor's office.

State health plan redux

The state Senate today made another run at getting a revamped state health plan past the governor, who vetoed an earlier version over a provision that remains in this bill.

A Senate and House conference committee came up with a bill that still includes the major sticking point: current state workers selecting the basic coverage plan would have to pay a premium for the first time. It amounts to almost $11 a month.

What’s different from the bill the governor vetoed is a reduction in the premium for Medicare-eligible retirees from $16.54 to $10 a month. That would be paid for by an increase in co-payments for generic drugs from $10 to $12. The governor’s proposed budget set the drug co-pay at $15.

Asked on the Senate floor what the chances were of the governor signing this bill, Sen. Tom Apodaca, said he didn’t know, even after talking to the governor and most of her staff. “I can’t honestly tell you any more now than the first time I talked to them,” said Apodaca, a Republican from Henderson County.

A spokesman for Gov. Bev Perdue issued a noncommittal response Thursday afternoon: “We’re watching the legislation closely and hoping to reach the best possible result for teachers, state employees and retirees.”

No agreement on health plan -- yet

Senate and House lawmakers have been unable to agree on a compromise health plan for state employees, teachers and retirees. Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Henderson County Republican, said he is hopeful that something can be worked out next week.

There wasn’t enough time to reach a compromise and send it to the governor before a 3 p.m. today deadline, he said. Most members of the General Assembly are heading out of town for the Easter weekend this afternoon. The deadline related to the beginning of the open enrollment period for the health plan.

“I will say I’m disappointed we didn’t come to an agreement,” Apodaca said after today’s Senate session ended without considering the issue.

Apodaca said the Senate caucus wasn’t comfortable with the compromise that had been worked out by House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg Republican, that would allow those signing up for the lowest tier of coverage not to have to pay premiums.

On Wednesday, House members rushed the compromise through in hopes getting it to the governor by the end of this week, so that the workers would know what kind of benefits the different health plans would include. Apodaca said it’s possible there will have to be a second enrollment period, and there would be some additional cost involved in that.

Last week, Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a bill that would have required workers signing up for that coverage plan to pay premiums for the first time.

The state plan covers 663,000 members, including 160,000 who are retired. General Assembly Republicans wanted active workers to pick up the premium for one of the plans as a means of closing a $515 million shortfall.

UPDATE: For a while this afternoon it looked like the House might have put in motion a deal in time for the 3 p.m. deadline, but it didn't happen. GOP and Democratic lawmakers recessed and retreated to their separate caucuses about 2 p.m. Tillis told reporters there was a possibility that Perdue might release House Democrats to override her veto. That would meet the deadline, and then House and Senate conference committee members would have to return next week to work out their disagreement on the no-premium issue. But when the House went back into session just before 3 p.m., Tillis announced there would not be an agreement today. "High drama," he called it.

Perdue vetoes two more GOP bills

Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed two bills on Wednesday, including one that would require teachers and state employees to pay a greater cost for their health insurance.

Perdue urged the legislature to return to the negotiating table, saying "now is simply not the time to cut teachers' pay, yet again."

The governor also vetoed a bill that would have given community colleges the option of opting out of federal student financial loan programs.

The GOP leadership said the governor's veto of the health care bill was putting state employees' health care coverage at risk.

"Our bill makes changes very similar to those in the governor's budget," said Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden attorney. "But with the health plan on the verge of financial collapse, she recklessly chose to cater to her political base."

Perdue has now vetoed four bills in the past two months.

Health Plan increases for employees headed to Perdue's desk

Teachers and state employees will be required to pay individual health insurance premiums for the first time and face higher co-pays and deductibles under a bill headed to the governor's desk.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Bev Perdue was mum Thursday on whether the governor, a Democrat, will sign the Republican-backed measure, which is aimed at keeping the State Health Plan solvent through 2013 by closing a $515 million shortfall expected between revenues and medical claims. In past years, such gaps have been plugged with taxpayer money.

The state's teachers and many retirees say the bill violates a decades-long compact in which government workers accepted lower pay than they might earn in the private sector in exchange for relatively generous benefits. GOP legislators counter that the state is broke, and that it is high time for state workers to start paying their fair share of health costs.

Read the full story from today's N&O.

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