PSE Reforms Move Forward While Employees Wonder about Future

LITTLE ROCK, AR – Legislators agree that working toward a long-term fix is the goal for the financial problems plaguing the public school insurance plan, but the goal right now is to get back in the black with some short-term reforms that not all employees on the plan are happy with.

Shelley Smith sat in the wings of the Senate, waiting to see how lawmakers would move forward with her future on Tuesday.

“A lot of people are not on board with the actual content of the bills,” she said.

The bills voted on by both the Senate and the House are what many like Smith consider another shortterm band-aid on a long-festering wound.

“They [lawmakers] were talking about a death spiral of costs going up and participation going down since 2008 or earlier,” she said. “But their answer has always been to just throw money at it and let it be somebody else’s problem.”

Smith along with others fear these reforms may have swift symptoms for part-time employees being removed from the plan.

“Everything is in flux right now it’s really hard to get a bead on where we’re going to be a year from now,” Smith said. “This will likely hit people like our bus drivers extremely hard.”

Lawmakers have said those part-time employees would be eligible to receive insurance from the Exchange under the Affordable Care Act. But with a push to eliminate funding for the state version of the ACA, no one has addressed what would then happen to those employees if it was discontinued.

“Will they have an option to join back on? Everyone seems to be saying that we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. There are a lot of unanswered questions that impact real people,” Shelley said.

And based on back and forth between legislators before the bills went to a vote — some lawmakers have similar concerns. At this point, however, those leading the reform efforts say the biggest challenge is getting back in the black and out of the red for the first time in years.

Still, school districts will be expected to give up savings to put back in the system. And employees say reduced premiums are a plus, but higher deductibles partnered with health savings account requirements could hit families especially hard.

“They’re looking at their budgets going well there goes 2/3 of my paycheck, what am I supposed to do?” Shelley said.

Some legislators have joined the employees, going so far as to ask about and voice frustration with the unknowns.

“With these changes, how short are they going to be?” State Senator Larry Teague asked.

When he received a response without hard figures, he spoke to the frustration of voting on reforms without knowing the true impact. For Shelley Smith, the numbers are critical to making the right decisions, whether that involves rate increases or the actual number of employees enrolled in the plan.

“If you can’t get the numbers right from the get-go you can’t make the math problem,” she said. “And with a multi-step math problem, In real life, you don’t get credit for getting the steps right.”

The House and Senate are expected to take a final vote on the issues at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday.

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