No surprise, but still painful – health insurance rates are rising

Even though it comes as no surprise, it still hurts. In what seems to be an annual August headline, health insurance rates for education employees, other state workers and retirees are going up in 2020.

Health insurance premium increases were approved in August by John Budd, director of the Office of Management and Emergency Services, after a recommendation from the Oklahoma Employees Insurance and Benefits Board.

Rates for the individual premium for HealthChoice High Option increased 3.5 % (now $615.90 monthly) and the pre-Medicare retirees will see a 5.3 % increase ($395.30 monthly premium). Rate increases are higher for employees using HMOs: up 8.5 % for CommunityCare and 14.1 % for GlobalHealth. Blue Cross and Blue Shield rates will increase only 1.8%.

According to OMES, the rate increases for HealthChoice high are lower than the national average of 6 % and are lower than initial projections.

The State of Oklahoma pays for the individual health care premium equal to the HealthChoice High Option for all education employees. Teachers, support professionals and administrators must pay for dependent coverage out of their own pockets. State workers and legislators have most of their dependent coverage paid for by the state.

“Since health insurance premiums increase almost every year, this doesn’t come as a shock. But the rate increases for dependent coverage will still have a real effect on many of our members,” said Alicia Priest, OEA president.

Rates for HealthCare High coverage of a spouse and two or more children also increased 3.5%, beginning January 1, 2020.

“An employee who covers a spouse and two or more children will now pay almost $15,000 a year for insurance – about $510 more than last year. For our teachers, that increase takes a big chunk out of the state-paid $1,220 raise for this year. For our education support employees who are paying for family coverage, they are basically working to just pay for insurance with very little left over for groceries and rent,” Priest said.

While public education has received more than $600 million in additional funding over the last two years, Priest said the rate increases shine a spotlight on just how important it is for the legislature to continue improving education funding.

“We already have a teacher shortage of historical proportions and our ESPs earn less than $19,000 a year. We can’t keep taking one step up and two steps back or we’ll never keep the professionals we have or entice new people to enter the education profession,” she said.