Report recommended allocating funds to help with rising premiums

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) -- Time is ticking before a significant increase on insurance premiums cost many educators around the state, and unless a special session happens soon many of them could have an important choice on how to spend their paychecks.

Beginning January 1 around 47,000 teachers on the state insurance plan could experience premium rates going up by as much as 50 percent -- that is unless a rare special session is ordered by Governor Mike Beebe.

"You have astronomical increases in the premiums," said Senator Jason Rapert, a Republican from Conway. "You can't expect someone netting $3,500 a month to pay $1,500 a month for their family."

Tuesday Channel Seven found an audit report from 2008, that recommended the governor put $63 million in general revenue for the Public School Employee Health Insurance Plan for this very reason.

Now nearly five years later, and Senator Rapert, who serves as chairman of the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee, said not following that advice has teachers in a bind.

"At that point the governor's office did not put money in the plan that was necessary to keep it fiscally sound," he added.

Outside of simply costing educators dearly each month, the chairman for the House Education Committee, James McClean, is concerned premium spikes will hurt Arkansas' future in the profession.

"We have to have qualified, outstanding, great people in the classroom. It's hard to attract those types of people when you have a health care benefit that really is upside down in terms of teacher compensation," said the Democrat state representative from Batesville.

Senator Rapert said it's his understanding anywhere between $50-$60 is needed to keep rates were they are, but believes with a state surplus ranging around $300 million the state will have no problem affording it.

Only the governor can call and special session, and Governor Beebe's office old Channel Seven Tuesday that he has no plans to call that special session yet, but he's not against the idea.

Beebe's office added he will need to see short and long term solutions before he'll call that special session.

McClean added that people dropping out of the plan along with large claims has the provider raising these premium costs.