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Beebe open to special session on teacher insurance

A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday the governor is open to the idea of calling a special session to address the troubled public school employees’ health insurance system, provided a legislative consensus can be reached first.

House Speaker Davy Carter said Sunday in an interview with “Talk Business & Politics” he would ask Beebe to call a special session so the Legislature can take up the matter before new insurance plans start in August.

During a special session in October, the Legislature earmarked $43 million from the state’s budget surplus to hold what would have been a nearly 50 percent increase in teacher premiums to 10 percent. Lawmakers also shifted another $36 million annually from other state sources to shore up the system and created a task force to recommend structural changes.

The task force has made several recommendations, including ending coverage for part-time school employees, verifying more aggressively the eligibility of dependents, excluding coverage for spouses who can obtain insurance elsewhere and restructuring certain plans.

“These recommendations, there may be some heartburn about them, but at the end of the day we’ve got to make that plan process sustainable,” Carter told “Talk Business & Politics.” “If we don’t do anything, it’s $70 million already in the hole.”

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Monday the governor is open to calling a special session, under two conditions.

“He wants to see two things before he makes a decision on a special session: One, a finalized proposal for what they want to do for the more permanent fix for the public school employee insurance program, and then evidence of strong support from both houses of the Legislature,” DeCample said.

Beebe’s goal is to get a special session finished in three days to minimize the cost to taxpayers, DeCample said. Three days is the minimum amount of time required to pass state legislation.

Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, has said public school teachers will see their insurance premiums increase by 35 percent if the Legislature does not act.

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