Topeka Come January, thousands of state employees will see a reduction in their health insurance premiums, and low-income state workers will be able to take advantage of a new program to cover their children at a discounted rate, officials said Friday.
"This is a move in a positive direction for state employees," said Brian Thompson, president of the Kansas Association of Public Employees.
"It's kind of a surprise," said Kathy Jansen, who is president of the KU Support Staff Senate. "This is a good thing."
The newly bid insurance contracts for the State Health Plan will affect 90,000 government workers and their dependents. At Kansas University, there are 4,760 state employees at the Lawrence campus and 2,200 at the Medical Center.
For individual employees, the state will continue paying 95 percent of the premiums. For employees covering dependents, the state is increasing its contribution from 35 percent to an average of 45 percent. That will result in a savings from $46 to $90 per month, officials said.
State officials say they have been able to reduce costs because the health plan has been better managed, state employees have used their coverage more efficiently, developed healthier habits and taken advantage of lower-cost generic and mail-order drugs.
In addition, the state has started a pilot program called Healthy KIDS, which will pay 90 percent of health care premiums for children of low-income employees. This is aimed at providing coverage for children who otherwise would have been eligible for the HeathWave program but can't use the program because of federal guidelines that prohibit state employee dependents from participating.
"These changes add up to a tremendous benefit increase and demonstrate what can be accomplished when the plan is managed wisely and employees do their part by living a more healthy lifestyle," Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said.
Gavin Young, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Administration, said he believed the majority of state workers would see a decrease in rates, but he had no exact figures since the period of enrollment in the various plans just ended.
For example, he said, the average family plan will decrease $69 per month, from $426 to $357. The most used plan for individual coverage will decrease approximately $7 per month, from $25 to $18 because of lower insurance bids.
The Healthy KIDS plan is expected to cover more than 2,000 children. "We hit a home run there," said Carl Hill, spokesman for KAPE.
Sebelius, Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, of Lawrence, and others have been working for years to get coverage to low-income state employees who were prohibited by federal rules from participating in HealthWave.
The decreases and discounted coverage come at a time when state employees, as most in the private sector, have been accustomed to increasing insurance rates.
Jansen, with the KU employees group, said when the state held plan enrollment last month many were stunned by the reductions.
"We've been conditioned every year to an increase, so it was kind of 'Whoa, what's this?'" she said.
The new rates go into effect Jan. 1.