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Many like changes to states health insurance plan
New copays earn mixed reviews, however
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State employees, including teachers, are a little bit happier with their health benefit plans following some changes.

The plans, in effect since the beginning of the year, drew harsh criticism from many employees over increases in out-of-pocket expenses.

“We really thought there ought to be some changes made, and obviously they’re doing that,” said Bill Sloan, executive director of the Georgia Retired Educators Association. “I really think the communication from state health benefits and from BlueCross BlueShield really didn’t get through to a lot of people. There was a lot of misunderstanding about what was going on with it.”

There are approximately 650,000 state employees, dependents and retirees on the State Health Benefit Plan, voted on by the Department of Community Health’s board members.

When BlueCross BlueShield took over the new state health benefits Jan. 1 with a health reimbursement account as opposed to an HMO, the protests came swiftly, notably in the form of the Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance Changes Facebook group.

“The changeover did create a few problems for our people,” Sloan said. “Some didn’t get moved to the right place. Some of them had a hard time getting their health insurance cards.

“But we worked through a lot of those. I think almost everybody’s problems have been solved right now.”

One of the main complaints was that there were no copays. New copays went into effect March 14 after the board met in late January to address those concerns.

But, not everyone is happy.

“The only thing that I’m hearing that’s really upsetting is people who chose the Bronze plan and those that chose the Gold, there’s no difference as far as what they pay (in copays),” said Gainesville benefits coordinator Sherry McElroy. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Bronze, Silver or Gold, you’re still going to pay the same fees every time you go. The only difference really is going to be your deductibles. The Gold deductible is lower than the Bronze.”

Brad Brown, executive director of human resources for the Hall County School District, agreed with McElroy.

“Overall, I think it was a good change,” he said, explaining that he has heard some people say if they had known earlier, they would have signed up for the Bronze plan rather than Gold or Silver.

For next year, the Georgia Department of Community Health has already announced a plan to give members more insurance choices.

The ultimate lineup for 2015, according to the department’s website, includes the choice between BlueCross BlueShield’s health reimbursement account, and a second third-party administrator to offer a high-deductible plan.

The department also plans to have a third vendor for metro Atlanta residents only.

McElroy said she thinks most people want to have choices, so she expects positive reception to the additional vendors. But she does see a drawback.

“I just hope they don’t give them too many options,” she said, explaining that many options can lead to more confusion about what a person is selecting. “I can see maybe two or three vendors, but then if you have Vendor 1 offer a Bronze, Silver and Gold plan also offering an HMO and also offering a high-deductible plan, across the board with all three vendors, it can be really confusing for people.

“I just think it needs to be user-friendly,” she added.

“I guess it’s a catch-22,” Brown said. “The more vendors, the more options there are, the more complicated it is. However, the good thing is, it gives people the chance to select the plan or the company that best suits them.”