Gov. Chris Christie’s budget address came with a public challenge to cut $250 million from state employees’ health benefits:
According to an nj.com story today:
Finding those savings falls to the State Health Benefits Program Plan Design Committee, the 12-person panel that figures out health care plans for state government workers, and the School Employees’ Health Benefits Program Plan Design Committee, the six-member panel that establishes benefits for school retirees.
The panels — whose members are split evenly between union and Christie administration representatives — were created as part of the 2011 pension and health care reform law that hiked employee contributions up to 35 percent of the premium, depending on a worker’s salary.
Though Christie’s proposed budget assumes this $250 million in savings, the union members are quick to point out the health benefits committees are autonomous, and Christie’s authority is limited to the votes of the management members.
“We don’t work for him,” said Hetty Rosenstein, area director of the Communications Workers of America and a state workers’ committee member.
Under state law, the committee has sole discretion over changes to employee health plans, she said. The committee’s independence was affirmed by a 2014 state appeals court ruling that said the administration overstepped when it raised retiree prescription drug copays in 2013 without consent from at least seven committee members.
Spokespeople for administration officials on the committee did not respond for requests for comment or deferred comment to the governor’s office.
So what have these committees been doing?
The nj.com story continues:
Jointly, the union and administration members have made changes reducing the cost of health care by hundreds of millions of dollars, members said. The administration estimated in its proposed budget that the committees’ work already saved the state $197 million next year.
The committees have slashed reimbursements for chiropractors who are not part of an insurance network, raised copays on emergency room visits, limited payments to out-of-network acupuncturists, restructured prescription cost sharing between employers and retirees and “aggressively” cracked down on the exploding pricetags for compound medications, Lyons said.
They also agreed to participate in a direct primary care medical home pilot program that pays doctors a fixed salary and a bonus for good clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction, in place of the “fee for service” model in which doctors have incentives to treat as many patients as possible.
And that seems to be about it. They do get space form the state for their website where it looks like the primary requirement for being a committee member is availability for an occasional lunch meeting to listen to consultants from Aon Hewitt make presentations though lately that hasn’t been much of a consideration as most meetings have been cancelled for the SEHBP and SHBP. The latest meeting minutes are from 2014 for the SEHBP which met for three hours that year and SHBP which met for four hours. I could find no reports.
Even in their rosiest scenario these committees could only claim to have come up with only $197 million in savings over their first five years of existence and now they are supposed to scrounge up another $250 million immediately on a one-day-a-year work schedule?