We set out to accomplish two things in the recent special session. The first was to lower the drastic increase in health insurance premiums for our teachers immediately. The second was to put measures in place to ensure that kind of rate increase doesn’t happen again.

Before we passed the recent legislation, teachers and school employees were facing a 50% increase in premiums.

A significant piece of the puzzle for our second goal was the creation of the State and Public School Life and Health Insurance Program Legislative Task Force. This was accomplished in Act 6 of the Extraordinary Session.

The purpose of the task force is to develop a plan that will ensure a high-quality and low-cost insurance plan for state employees, state employee retirees, public school employees, and public school employee retirees.

This task force is wasting no time. Appointments were made early this week and on Friday members held their first meeting.

During the meeting, it was made clear that if the task force does not find a permanent solution to the teacher’s insurance crises teachers that school employees could once again be facing $1,500 a month premiums next year.

The Extraordinary Session allowed us to use $45 million of surplus funds to offset the increase for the 2014 year only.

It is up to this task force to recommend a permanent solution to the next General Assembly.

The task force consists of 12 members. The 6 House members include the Chair of House Education, Rep. James McLean (District 63-Batesville) and the Chair of the House Committee on Insurance and Commerce, Rep. Tommy Wren (District 62-Melbourne).

The legislation also requires the Speaker of the House to make 4 appointments to the task force. Speaker Carter appointed Rep. George McGill (District 78-Fort Smith), Rep. Harold Copenhaver (District 58-Jonesboro), Rep. Bill Gossage (District 82-Ozark), and Rep. Allen Kerr (District 32-Little Rock).

Rep. McGill, Rep. Copenhaver, and Rep. Kerr all have extensive experience in the insurance industry. Rep. Gossage brings to the task force his many years in public education and administration.

Sen. Jim Hendren will serve as chair and Rep. Copenhaver was elected as vice chair.

The task force will meet at least once every 2 months. However, the chair indicated it may be meeting more than what is required because of the urgent nature to provide affordable health care to our educators.

Members will immediately begin to study our current statutes that may be barriers to the stability of the program and the system’s current structure. From there, they can explore ways to make effective changes.

The task force will submit a written report to the Senate and the House by the end of June 2014.

We will continue to update you on their progress.