Work stalls on health-insurance options for N.J. public workers

Time is running out for an agreement on developing less-expensive health plans for New Jersey’s public employees.

The unions were promised new options after the Legislature enacted benefit changes requiring public workers to pay a bigger share of their health-care costs.

The panels created to craft the new plans still have not reached an agreement with less than two weeks until the Oct. 1 date for employees to make changes to their insurance coverage.

Senate President Steve Sweeney says that’s disappointing.

“Well, what’s going to happen is we’ll just keep the plans that we have and we’ll go by the grids that we have and there won’t be many options for workers to choose to try to reduce their costs,” Sweeney said. “Hopefully they’ll start to work together because there is an incentive on the government’s side to create less expensive plans. There really is.”

There is a disagreement on whether to offer one high-deductible plan or two, according to New Jersey Education Association Vice President Wendell Steinhauer, a member of the school employee health-benefits panel.

“Both sides have been working hard. I think there’s just a disagreement on how many to offer and, since it’s new, not to confuse the ultimate consumers,” Steinhauer said. “We want them to look at more than just the low price and to be aware of what they’re actually getting when they do pick that lower price.”

No additional meetings to work on new plans have been scheduled.

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