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Weekly Address – February 25, 2022

From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.

The legislature has given final approval to a package of bills that will shore up the finances of two public health insurance systems.

The systems provide coverage for about 100,000 public school teachers and the state employees.

Since I’ve been in the legislature, taxpayers have had to put about $280 million into the systems to keep them financially solvent.

Every year, teachers and public employees had to worry that premiums would go up dramatically, taking a big chunk out of any raises they earned.

Those financial problems should be a thing of the past, thanks to the package of reforms we sent to the governor this week.

One measure requires the systems to maintain financial reserves. If those reserves fall below 12 percent of annual expenses, the director then must take steps to boost funding.

First of all, the legislature will have the option of adding funds to the health insurance systems, but if we choose not to, they will be obligated to raise premiums or reduce benefits.

If the reserve funds exceed 16 percent of annual expenses, the systems will lower premiums or expand benefits.

We sent to the governor another measure that increases legislative oversight of the health plans.

Ultimately, legislators are accountable to taxpayers. It’s important that lawmakers have oversight of the systems if we want to avoid repeating the same financial problems that have afflicted them so often in the past.

A new law requires that any proposed changes in the health plans must be referred to oversight commissions, which in turn will report the legislature every quarter. We’ll be made aware of negative fiscal trends before they become a financial crisis.

Along the same lines, we passed legislation that requires a fiscal impact statement whenever a bill is introduced that would change benefits.

We’ve learned from experience that expanded benefits are popular, but they can drive up costs significantly for participants.

If we want to strengthen the financial condition of the health plans, the key is strengthening oversight by legislators, because the bottom line is that lawmakers are the ones who have the authority to maximize benefits and control costs.

Finally, there are a couple of important provisions in the package of bills that allow for better management of diabetes and morbid obesity.

Both chronic illnesses that often lead to other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease.

Effectively managing diabetes and morbid obesity is essential for holding down the cost of health care, not to mention improving the health of individuals.

When we return to the Capitol next week, we’ll finish work on the state budget. That means a careful review of about $6 billion in spending requests from the state’s general revenue fund.

It looks as if we can wrap up the fiscal session in a couple of more weeks. Cross your fingers.

From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.


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