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Edwards asks that taxpayers pay for campaign stunt

In his never-ending quest to make himself seen as a big boy contender for Louisiana governor next year, state Rep. John Bel Edwards is trying to create another issue that he believes he can exploit for this purpose – at taxpayer expense.

Edwards’ latest ploy is to have the entire House of Representatives return to Baton Rouge out of session to go over coming changes to health insurance plans overseen by the Office of Group Benefits. These are for state employees and retirees (and some school boards’ employees), with changes already announced in benefits and an anticipated rate increase after a decrease of nine percent over the past two years. He says this information would aid House members “to protect our constituents from astronomical cost increases.”

One effect of the rate decreases, about which Edwards curiously never made a peep about in support of the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration’s decreasing substantially health care premiums for OGB participants, was to empty largely the reserve fund for this purpose. This was desirable in that the state was sitting on idle balances far in excess of industry recommendations, but more controversially the benefit changes also would slow the expenditure rate to prevent the fund from going to zero and leave it with a balance in line with industry averages.

With an estimated five percent increase in the offing, even Edwards is not so stupid that he could not tell that there actually is a cost decrease, not increase, over the last three years. So what he must be referring to is the plan changes that will change deductibles, coverages and co-payments, which are estimated in the latest edition of the Legislative Fiscal Office’s newsletter as saving the state $113.7 million for the remainder of the fiscal year. It estimates as a result that health care costs for an active (not retired) single (not married or family) member (assuming current proportions by plan translated to the new, different plans) will increase $1,654 a year – even though average premiums are thought to decrease by $229.10, all other costs are believed to increase by $1,883.33. (For other kinds of members, a premium increase is expected.)

This newsletter article lays out pretty well the impact of the changes and even gives example scenarios, and undoubtedly even more detailed data can be requested by House members from the LFO on this subject – which is why it’s a glorious waste of taxpayer dollars to haul in the entire House for briefings on this, which when you throw in the per diems and travel expenditures will cost the people needlessly anywhere from $20,000 to $25,000. If you can read and have a reasonable amount of intelligence – fingers crossed that all our legislators possess these traits – the issue is not difficult to understand and explain.

But that’s not the genuine purpose of Edwards’ request, which is to campaign on the taxpayers’ dime by having this opportunity to rail against the changes and saying something different should be done. Which in fact would promote unwise policy, for health insurance benefits are just part of the gravy train of compensation that Louisiana’s state employees and retirees enjoy – and perhaps the richest of the mixture.

Right from the start of one’s state employment, for a plan chock full of benefits at price levels rarely as low in other jobs, taxpayers cough up 62.5 to 75 percent of the premium (which, interestingly, is below the national average of the states at 84 percent). According to a weighted average, the typical Louisiana plan member currently pays only $809 a year or 12th lowest among the states, while when adjusted for “richness,” or an assessment of the amount and quality of benefits, that falls to just $541 (meaning disproportionately more benefits for what is paid in) or 18th lowest.

Contrast this with the individual marketplace as through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) health care insurance exchanges. Like most states’ plans, Louisiana’s offerings would be considered at the “platinum” level, where for my situation (a spouse, average age above the U.S. median, in my parish) the cheapest plan, like my OGB health maintenance organization plan with no deductible but unlike it with higher co-pays and out-of-pocket maximums and maybe a bit fewer benefits, would cost $959 a month – nearly double the cost of the premium for my category for the state.

And in the private sector, where nationally the typical employer of at least 200 pays 71 percent of the premiums for an employee of my status, the average annual premium cost there is $380 a month, but typically for plans far less generous with benefits and for younger (presumably healthier) populations than Louisiana’s state plans (and that is a national figure). For smaller employers (3-199 employees), the national average rises to almost $450 a month, about $100 a month less than I pay. In the south, the average family plan for all employers costs $419 a month (the most expensive of the regions). Keep in mind as well that only about a quarter of private sector firms offer any health insurance benefits to retirees, and for the majority of Louisiana retirees, and essentially all who made even a half-career of it (20 years), the state pays 75 percent of the premiums.

To summarize, Louisiana state employees and retirees get a pretty sweet health care insurance deal from the taxpayers, so it’s not unreasonable in any way that they need to pay their fair share through changes that still would keep their benefits at the “platinum” level. What Edwards ought to be upset about is how a male of his age in his district paid as an individual an average of $131 a month for health care insurance right before Obamacare’s implementation and now is paying an average of $236 a month after, or an 80 percent increase. That’s the genuine “astronomical cost increase.”

But that doesn’t fit this hypocrite’s narrative because Edwards had been a full-throated supporter of that and stupidly would expand Medicaid eligibility as part of this, which would cost the state much more for delivering worse outcomes. House Speaker Chuck Kleckley has said he is open to the idea of aiding and abetting this use of taxpayer funds for partisan purposes, but there’s no good reason to waste taxpayer dollars on this.

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