Local Lawmakers Meet On Teachers’ Insurance Rate Hikes

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Two local lawmakers met with constituents at West Fork Elementary School to discuss an anticipated insurance rate hike on state teachers.

Gov. Mike Beebe is set to call a special legislative session Thursday in hopes to head off the health insurance increases that could hike public school employees' rates up by 50 percent, his spokesman Matt DeCample said Wednesday (Oct. 16).

"I would not be issuing this call if we hadn't already seen extraordinary bipartisan efforts to help our teachers and other public-school employees in Arkansas," Beebe said.

In the meantime, state Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) and Arkansas Sen. Brian King (R-Green Forest) told voters in West Fork that they hope to change the anticipated rate hike.

"I think one of the ideas is to have no premium increase at all," Harris said. "I think everyone across the state and nation, because of Obamacare and different issues, is going to have a rate increase."

King said the two wanted to meet with teachers face-to-face to understand their concerns.

"When you get out and meet the people, when you understand face-to-face---emails are good. Phone calls are good. But when you're able to get face-to-face, that's the best way to communicate with your constituents," he said.

Officials say the Affordable Health Care law is the reason for the rate increase. State officials said an extra $54 million is needed to keep the rates at current levels. Beebe wants to use $43 million from the state's surplus this year and move state money in the following years to cover the cost.

"After dozens of meetings with legislators, district officials, teachers and other involved parties, we have a solution that may not please every individual group, but will help alleviate the spike in insurance rates and shore up this insurance program," Beebe said.

The special session is set to begin Thursday (Oct. 17) at 3 p.m. and has no limit on the number of days it can last, DeCample said. However, the governors' office hopes the special session ends in the three-day minimum period for special sessions, or by Saturday afternoon, he said.