Interim Legislative committee still working on 'self-insurance' health plan for state employees

Aug 23, 2018

Interim Health Care Reform Review Committee meets in Bismarck.
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

An interim Legislative committee continues to work on a bill that could allow the state to adopt a self-insurance plan for state employee health benefits.

Right now, the state is contracting with Sanford Health to provide that benefit. But House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo) had suggested the state go to self-insurance – as a way to control costs.

The Public Employees’ Retirement System selects the health insurance provider. Under a bill draft the committee is now studying, the PERS board could select the self-insurance option.

"The only issue is, can the state of North Dakota have an insurance plan that saves money," said Health Care Reform Review Committee chairman Rep. George Keiser (R-Bismarck). "If we go to self-insurance, can we save money?"

One provision in the bill keeps the benefits the same from the fully funded plan to the self-insurance plan. Rep. Jim Kasper (R-Fargo) asked if the bill draft should be changed to allow the PERS board the option of cutting back benefits to help save money. Kasper told the Committee the fully funded plan has the essential benefits required by the federal government.

"Under a self-funded plan, you don't have to abide by those essential benefits, which gives the PERS board an opportunity, if they had the flexibility, to get rid of one or more of the essential benefits, if they felt it was not needed for our plan," Kasper said.

But other committee members wondered if removing that clause from the bill draft would be wise.

"We have people who are accustomed to having the benefits that are provided for at this time," said Sen. Judy Lee (R-West Fargo). "If we begin to reduce those benefits at the same time we're making this kind of move, it would be a really nasty hit."

"It is a matter of trust with our public employees," said Chariman Keiser. "We can put the flexibility in, and say, 'We don't intend to do anything,' but that trust, I don't think will be there."

The committee will meet one more time, and will make a final decision on whether to recommend a bill for introduction into the 2019 session.

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