“That’s just ridiculous”: Some Oklahoma teachers, state workers to face 140% price hike on insurance premiums

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma educators and state workers on a particular health insurance plan now face a 140% price hike for specific premiums.

For teachers with children on their plan under Blue Cross Blue Shield Oklahoma, the premium has gone from $523 to $1269.

“It is a huge cost burden to many of our educators,” said Oklahoma Education Association President Katherine Bishop. “Their individual coverage is what is covered [by the state]…what’s not covered is dependent coverage.”

Bishop says they would support any future legislation that would help teachers pay for dependent coverage.

“It’s something that we’ve been having conversations over year after year after year,” she said.

For state employees, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma premium jumped from $558 to $928. The difference is that 75 percent of the dependent costs is covered by the state.

Oklahoma Public Employees Association Executive Director Sterling Zearley says a hike of this magnitude is unprecedented.

“I’ve never seen anything close to this,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll have a 3 percent increase I think the biggest one I ever seen I think we had a 7 percent 8 percent increase…but 140 percent? Come on.”

Zearley says any frustrated workers shouldn’t blame the state or those who played a role in negotiations.

“This wasn’t the state of Oklahoma’s fault or OMES, they’re a private and they can bid what they want to within reason,” he said. “But that’s not within reason…that’s just ridiculous.”

Bonnie Campo with the Office of Management and Enterprise Services agrees it was a bigger raise than they’re used to seeing during the negotiation process, and that when third-party evaluators looked at this proposal, they couldn’t find any data to justify such an increase. The insurance provider even agreed.

“[The evaluators] did not find an underlying reason for those increases,” she said. “When asked, Blue Cross Blue Shield confirmed that.”

OMES responded by putting a restriction on that plan for this coming year.

“We could have ultimately not given Blue Cross Blue Shield as an option, but we thought at the end of the day people have a right to choose their healthcare,” she said. “In this case, we simply wanted to restrict enrollment to those for a new plan.”

She is now emphasizing that there are other carriers available.

“We simply want people to know you have options when it comes to healthcare,” she said. “While you are seeing increases in some spaces, we also have plenty of plans that did not see increases.”

KFOR reached out to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma for a comment. They sent back the following statement:

On August 19, 2021, the State of Oklahoma decided to restrict BCBSOK’s enrollment for
employees based on BCBSOK’s 2022 rate adjustments. Oftentimes, changes in medical costs and utilization, for example, may impact our members’ premiums and out of pocket costs. The rates BCBSOK submitted to the State were competitive and in line with actuarial recommendations to sustain the group. Current BlueLincs HMO members may keep BCBSOK coverage for 2022 and enroll spouses or dependents if they so desire. We encourage our members to reach out with their questions by calling the number on their member ID card, visiting the dedicated website bcbsok.com/state or by contacting their benefit coordinator. As Oklahoma’s oldest and largest private health insurer, BCBSOK will continue to show commitment and support to the several thousand State employees that we cover.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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