Panel reviews health plan for Neb. officials

Neb. lawmakers consider bill to boot governor and elected officials off state health plan

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- The governor, attorney general and other elected officials would be kicked off Nebraska's state employee health insurance plan under a bill lawmakers discussed Thursday.

Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist told the Executive Board, a special committee, that he introduced the bill to force state officials to face the same challenges as Nebraska residents, who often pay more for insurance and struggle to afford it. No one testified in favor or against the bill.

"With this bill, these elected officials will make a statement that we will stand side by side with the constituents, and we will focus on creating an insurance system that works for everyone," Nordquist said.

The highest deductible for a state employee is around $1,000. The state contributes 79 percent of the total cost of a health insurance plan chosen by a state employee.

Nebraska Accounting Office of the Legislative Council data shows state family coverage premiums have increased by almost 70 percent since 2003. National average annual family premiums have increased by almost 100 percent since 2002, according to a Kaiser Foundation study.

All state legislators, the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer and state auditor would have to seek private insurance starting in July 2014 if the bill passed. Nordquist told the panel he would be open to allowing the bill to take effect as new elected officials enter office rather than an across-the-board change in 2014.

Nordquist said he has a private insurance plan already, but could fall back on the state plan if he had cancer or a pre-existing condition. But the average Nebraska resident would have to file for bankruptcy, Nordquist said.

Lexington Sen. John Wightman pointed out that some elected officials take office expecting to benefit from the state's health insurance plan. Wightman said it might not be fair to take away benefits from current elected officials who were told they'd have state health insurance plans.

Nordquist said elected officials wouldn't be left without coverage because they could choose to use the federal health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act, like members of Congress will start doing in 2014.

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The bill is LB18.

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