State health insurance plan has surplus

Published 4:15 pm Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The state and school employees’ health plan that is managed by the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration has a $149 million surplus, officials say.

Sam Atkinson, director of performance audits at the state auditor’s office, called the health plan “very viable,” particularly because this is its second straight surplus year. The surplus comes from premium increases and benefits changes, according to an audit. Premiums exceeded claims by $108.8 million during the 2007 calendar year.

“We’ve seen a mild rate increase, but we’ve also seen several benefits and services that we didn’t have previously,” Atkinson said. “The operating surplus also ensures that should some catastrophic event occur, should some tremendous increase in insurance occur, then we in the state of Mississippi are prepared, at least initially.”

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The surplus is held as a reserve and doesn’t go to any insurance company or outside entity.

The plan covers more than 190,000 people, including 140,503 state and school employees and retirees and 49,706 dependents.

Brenda Scott, president of the Mississippi Alliance of State Employees, said that although it appears the plan is thriving and could possibly afford to reduce premiums for active employees, she doesn’t think that would be prudent in coming years because of the way prices have been increasing.

Instead, Scott recommended that the state survey plan members to see how many of them are putting off care or not going to a doctor because of cost concerns.

She said that information should be used to request a significant pay increase for state employees in the next legislative session.

“Health care is such a huge monster, and we are always concerned that health care is affordable,” Scott said.

State employees last received a raise in July 2007.

Teresa Planch, the state insurance administrator, said the active employee premium increase that took effect last week is set at 1.5 percent. That’s less than the 5 percent increase state employees paid last year and the 11 percent increase in 2006.