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Ark. gov, legislators meet over teacher coverage

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Gov. Mike Beebe spent 2½ hours Tuesday afternoon meeting with legislators about the cost of health insurance for Arkansas public school teachers, which the state will need a special legislative session to address.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said House and Senate members who were in the meeting will meet with other members of those chambers to discuss proposals for how to lessen the increase.

Arkansas' 47,000 public school employees are expected to see a steep increase in premium costs at the first of the year unless lawmakers agree on a plan to fund the program. Two weeks ago, Beebe announced that enrollment would be delayed until Nov. 1, rather than Oct. 1, as lawmakers work toward a fix.

The enrollment period will cut off on Nov. 20. Officials said the short enrollment period is necessary so the state will have time to print and distribute insurance cards by Jan. 1.

DeCample said the increase can be held down to about 10 percent for 2014, which he said is in line with the national average. The bigger issue is finding a long-term solution, deciding how much the state will put up to fund the program and where it will get the funds.

Beebe will have to call a special legislative session to address the issue but he wants the votes lined up before doing so.

DeCample said the governor and legislators "made good progress" in their meeting Tuesday.

The governor has said he won't call a special session unless the Legislature has reached a consensus on what to do. A memorandum released last week detailed proposals that would reduce but not totally eliminate the increase in premiums for the public school employees.