Georgia’s Capitol. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

Health insurance premiums in 2020: flat for state teachers, employees

For the second year in a row, hundreds of thousands of Georgia teachers and state workers won’t see their health insurance premiums increase.

But some retired teachers and employees on the State Health Benefit Plan could see their rates jump.

The Georgia Department of Community Health board approved rates for 2020 on Thursday for the 660,000 members on the State Health Benefit Plan.

The lack of an increase for teachers and state workers — co-payments and deductibles will also remain the same — is in contrast to what many private industry employees are likely to see in 2020, when premiums may rise as health care costs continue to climb.

It’s also welcome news for at least some of the plan’s members after Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration made the decision in May to save $235 million by skipping a month’s payment into the SHBP, citing a surplus and the need to make sure the state made its budget for fiscal 2019, which ended June 30.

The move angered SHBP members because they said the state raided plan reserves during the Great Recession, leading to higher premiums and reduced benefits.

The insurance plan is funded by a combination of “employer” payments — money put in by the state and school districts — and the “employee” payments that plan members make as premiums.

Jeff Rickman, who oversees the SHBP for the agency, said the plan is in good financial shape and officials have sought to hold down costs while also considering new programs.

Two years ago, DCH officials were projecting a $242 million shortfall for the plan in fiscal 2020, which began July 1, if no changes were made.

But Rickman said the agency has seen cost savings in several areas, including by changing the manager of pharmacy benefits for plan members.

“Over the years we have been fortunate in financial planning for SHBP, we have been able to amass a surplus,” Rickman said. “Overall, we have been able to add to the surplus.”

Depending on what plans they pick, the cost of some of the Medicare Advantage plans state retirees are on will see a premium increase in 2020, he said. To save money, some retirees may have to switch providers.

For instance, the premium for the lower-cost standard plan offered by UnitedHealthcare will fall, but the standard plan of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield would go from no premium to $146.15 a month. The cost of UnitedHealthcare’s premium plan would remain the same, far less expensive than the one offered by Anthem.

In general, health care costs are expected to continue to rise nationally.

According to the report released in June from PwC’s Health Research Institute, employers and insurers are expecting a 6% jump in health care costs in 2020, about the same as this year. Those costs tend to be passed on to employees in terms of higher premiums, deductibles and co-pays.

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