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More than 6,700 school and state employees will pay higher premiums for health insurance next year because they or their spouses failed to fill out questionnaires about their health, a state official said Tuesday.

Janna Keathley, chief quality officer for the Department of Finance and Administration's Employee Benefits Division, told the State and Public School Life and Health Insurance Board that 3,052 state employees and 3,671 school employees will pay an extra $75 a month in premiums because they or their spouses failed to fill out the survey by the Oct. 31 deadline.

The requirement to fill out the questionnaire was added this year to the wellness program for teachers and state employees.

To avoid paying the extra $75 a month, employees were also required to visit doctors between Nov. 1, 2014, and Oct. 31.

Keathley said 353 of the employees had met all of the program's requirements, including filling out the surveys, but face higher premiums because their spouses are covered under the same plan and didn't fill out the surveys.

An additional 1,454 employees could face paying the penalty because they didn't visit doctors. But, she said, that number is expected to shrink in coming months as doctors submit claims for payment that the division uses to verify those visits.

Bob Alexander, director of the Employee Benefits Division, said it wouldn't be practical to extend the deadline to complete the questionnaire because the division must prepare this month for payroll deductions reflecting benefits that will take effect next year.

Some school officials told him that they had done everything they could to get their employees to complete the questionnaire but still didn't get full compliance, he added.

"Some folks just aren't going to do it," Alexander said. "I can't explain exactly why."

The health plans administered by the division cover about 44,000 school employees and 26,500 state employees, as well as retirees and employees' spouses and children.

The wellness program is designed to hold down health care costs by identifying employees who have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and ensuring that they receive the proper services, Alexander has said.

Starting such the wellness program, he said, was a recommendation of a consultant to the State and Public School Life and Health Insurance Program Legislative Task Force, which was formed during a special session of the state Legislature in 2013 to monitor the plans' finances and help keep down premiums.

To avoid paying the extra $75 this year, the first year of the wellness program, employees were required to visit doctors between Jan. 1, 2013, and Nov. 1, 2014.

Almost all employees who were eligible received the discount this year, Alexander said.

For employees to receive the discount in 2017, their spouses must also visit doctors if they are covered under the same plan.

Michele Linch, director of the Arkansas State Teachers Association, said some employees had technical trouble filling out the online questionnaire. Others may not have known about the requirement, she said.

She supports eliminating the requirement of filling out the questionnaire.

Members of the group "don't see the value" in filling it out, she said.

Alexander said Chicago-based ComPsych, which runs the health plans' employee assistance program, uses the questionnaire results to identify employees who have chronic health problems and offer them services.

John Bridges, assistant director of the Arkansas State Employees Association, said his group supports the wellness program because it is intended to lower the cost of their health coverage.

While some employees may not have known about the requirements this year, compliance will likely increase next year, he said.

"Once that goes on their premiums, that $75, that gets their attention," Bridges said.

Metro on 11/18/2015

Print Headline: 6,700 to pay $75 more for coverage

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Archived Comments

  • YODA01
    November 18, 2015 at 7:59 a.m.

    The WELLNESS doctor visit is a new government layer that is a medical joke. Assumes the patient is too timid or too stupid to tell their doctor when they need attention to an illness. Actually an attempt to document more patient information and ultimately screen out some patients. Also creates jobs for more paper pushers. I wish we could vote TODAY for new representation at all government levels.

  • GoBigRed
    November 18, 2015 at 8:21 a.m.

    They had the same program the last two years. This isn't a new story or program.

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