Nearly nine thousand have joined the facebook protest group in less than a week. The group called "T.R.A.G.I.C." -- or "Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance Changes" -- is speaking out about the problems the state insurance change has caused them. Two local teachers talked with News 3 earlier this week. They’re protesting the state's change from a multi-provider multi-plan set up - to a single provider offering only one type of insurance a health reimbursement plan which can significantly raise out of pocket costs. The decision to change state employees' health insurance options was essentially a cost-cutting measure.
Pamela Keene -of the Georgia Department of Community Health says streamlining administrative services - using one provider and one type of plan - will save 200-million a year. And, because of budget deficits, the state could "not sustain continued use of a "co-pay only" program. Some like Melissa McCoy - a teacher with chronic hypertension who suffered a major heart attack last year - say the change is shifting that budget deficit to them, “My diagnosis has come to a standstill because of this insurance. I can't afford the diagnostics - I can't afford to do that and go see my specialists as I need to and I can not afford to pay a vast pharmacy bill that's coming out of my hra but not offsetting that deductible.” She and other teachers complained about a shorter than usual - one week - benefit enrollment period and a lack of sufficient information during that time. Keene says enrollment went from October 21st to November 8th and that benefits information was communicated as it has been in the past - through meetings, mailings, and comprehensive guides available online at the enrollment site.
That’s not enough - say some who feel like they were blindsided by the change. Local teacher Robbie Richardson says, “The fact that you can get about close to like 10-thousand teachers to join and now other state employees - the fact that you can mobilize that many teachers to agree on something - that fact - that tells you something’s wrong.”
Keene says the department can only speculate the increase in protests now is a result of the plans going into effect on January first. As far as the possibility of any change in the future - it won't come this year. Any possible design changes would have to be presented to the D.C.H. board this fall for implementation next year
Some state workers are outraged about a change to health benefits that went into effect the first of the year. A couple of local teachers contacted News 3 with their concerns. This is a change that affects not just our local teachers - but state employees throughout Georgia. For some - insurance premiums did go down - but if you're ill - especially if you suffer from a chronic illness - your out of pocket costs could skyrocket.
Melissa McCoy has struggled with chronic hypertension since her teens - and suffered a heart attack at a young age last year...that means health insurance is very important...and she feels she and other state employees were given a raw deal during their benefits enrollment period for this year's plan, "Information was negligible - I looked at the fact sheet, I looked at the tiers. I said well - with my chronic illness I will go with the gold regardless."
The State Department of Community Health has changed the available insurance options for more than 600-thousand state employees. Taking away PPO and HMO options - offering a tiered health reimbursement account for all. The higher the premium, the lower your deductible and the more money placed in your reimbursement account. But as teacher Robbie Richardson found out, "You have that amount of money that you can use that goes to everything - including prescriptions - but only doctors visits will go to your deductible - so say you spend 800 bucks a month on medicines you know - well that's just 800 buck you're out of - it's not going to go to help you out." And once the HRA money is spent - you're paying all costs out of pocket until you reach your deductible. Richardson says, "Literally people are having to make the choice - do you know - do I pay the power bill - do I go get the MRI imaging I have on my neck so I can take care of this problem."
Some state employees are so outraged by the change - a group called T.R.A.G.I.C. - Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance has been started to draw attention to the issue. The T.R.A.G.I.C. group has called for teachers and other state workers to contact both the Governor and the Department of Community Health on a daily basis about the issue. They are also planning a rally at the Capitol next month. We have contacted the State Department of Community Health with questions about the change...and the possibility of any future adjustments to it. They say they'll have some answers for us tomorrow. We'll let you know their response.
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