Kansas commission reduces insurance rates for some state employees

Gov. Laura Kelly
Posted at 12:36 PM, Jun 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-03 18:36:44-04

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas commission voted Monday to give state employees a break on health insurance rates after they endured years of significant increases.

The Kansas Employees Health Care Commission voted unanimously to either reduce state employees' rates 6% for plans that include spouses, families or retirees, while keeping other plan rates flat. At the same time, the state will increase its contribution to the state insurance fund by 4.5%, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Under former Gov. Sam Brownback, the state reduced contributions by 8.5 % in 2015 to secure cash to balance the state budget, then imposed rate increases from 2016-18 of 36.7 %, 30.4 % and 31.7 % for employees with spouses or families participating in the state insurance plan.

"There was no way an employee could have begun to plan for those types of increases," said Kansas Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt, a Republican who was elected in November.

As the state shifted the burden of supporting the health care fund to employees, fund reserves dropped from $195 million in 2014 to a low of $24 million in 2017. After Monday's decision, the reserve balance is expected to increase from $48 million to $52 million next year.

"You can argue pretty conclusively the reason the balance slipped so low is the state lowered its contributions substantially at a time when expenses were going up," said Duane Goossen, the interim secretary of administration under Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat.

Cheryl Buxton, president of the Employee Advisory Committee, which includes current and former employees who are active in the health insurance plan, said employees will be pleased with the combination of decreased health insurance costs and a pay increase the Legislature included in the new state budget.

Commissioners expressed interest in passing along more savings but long-term forecasts suggested modest increases would be needed to maintain a targeted reserve balance as health costs rise.

"I would not support getting wild and crazy with minus 30% increases," Schmidt said. "We have to be responsible, I understand. We're adulting now."

The committee also approved savings for employees using a high-deductible plan. After the deductible is met, employees will pay 10% of health costs instead of the current 20% rate. And employees who leave state jobs will be allowed to keep their health insurance through the end of the month. During Brownback's administration, workers lost their insurance the day their employment ended.