News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
TUESDAY, JUNE 26, 2007

Senators have not turned in application for health insurance

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Members of the state Senate may want taxpayers to pick up the tab for their health insurance, but if so, senators still have a lot of forms to fill out.

"We did receive a copy of the resolution the Senate passed. We have not received an application (for insurance coverage)," said Gary Matthews, the chief operating officer of the Alabama State Employees Insurance Board. The board cannot proceed until it receives an application.

On the last day of the 2007 legislative session, the Senate approved a resolution by Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield. The resolution, passed on an unrecorded voice vote, would give members of the Senate access to low-cost state health insurance coverage, as "other state employees" have. It did not include members of the state House.

The resolution raised the ire of critics who said low-cost health coverage would amount to a $5,000 bonus in a year when senators already had increased their salaries by 60 percent.

Opponents, including Gov. Bob Riley and state Finance Director Jim Main, oppose Senate participation at state employee rates. Both contend the cost is not budgeted and may violate state law that stipulates who may participate in the plan.

Riley sent a letter Monday asking the insurance board to reject the Senate application. He called McClain's resolution "a brazen attempt by state senators to give themselves free or low-cost health insurance at taxpayer expense."

Main sent a similar letter June 20, in which he called the Senate resolution "an effort to have their health care insurance paid for by the taxpayers of Alabama." Main contends that senators are not eligible under state law.

As state employees, both Riley and Main are eligible to participate in the plan at the state employee rate, Matthews said.

Riley Press Secretary Tara Hutchison said both the governor and finance director participate. Each pays $202 per month to cover the cost of family health coverage, and a $22 extra charge because they both smoke.

The state pays the cost of individual state employees' health insurance. Riley's and Main's payments are for their families' coverage.

Matthews said the SEIB believes the Senate is eligible for coverage.

"The question is who pays," he said. "We don't get into who pays."

Currently, members of the House and Senate may purchase state employee health coverage by paying the full cost of $460 per month for an individual policy or $640 for family coverage. As with others covered by the plan, lawmakers pay the $22 monthly surcharge if they smoke.

A number of cities and counties in Alabama purchase health insurance for employees under the SEIB umbrella, and Matthews said plans vary as to whether the employer or employee pays for coverage.

The next regularly scheduled insurance board meeting is in August.

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