Board approves no change for South Carolina employees' premiums, but increases employers costs

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — The health care costs of South Carolina's public employees will stay the same next year, but their employers will pay more.

The State Fiscal Accountability Authority unanimously approved Tuesday the health care rates that legislators wrote into this year's budget. It called for no change to employees' monthly premiums, co-payments or deductibles.

However, state agencies, school districts, public colleges and participating local governments will pay 4.5 percent more starting Jan. 1 to cover rising costs.

The little overall change means the state remains grandfathered under the federal health care overhaul.

The state health plan covers more than 465,400 people in South Carolina. They include roughly 185,000 public workers, 200,000 of their family members, and 80,000 retirees, according to the Public Employee Benefit Authority, the agency that doles out public benefits.

Those covered by the plan will see additional benefits next year.

Changes recommended by the benefits agency and approved Tuesday by the fiscal oversight board include the elimination of co-payments for contraceptives already covered by the health plan.

Also starting Jan. 1, employees who smoke will pay nothing for prescription medicine to help them quit, such as Chantix.

The goal is that helping them quit will ultimately cut down on health care costs paid by taxpayers, said Peggy Boykin, executive director of the Public Employee Benefit Authority.

Employees can also reduce their premiums by quitting. Since January 2010, smokers have paid a surcharge. The cost has risen to between $40 and $60 extra monthly, depending on how many people their policy covers.

Out-of-pocket costs will also be eliminated for colonoscopies and adult vaccines, including yearly flu shots. Those changes are among what would be required anyway if the state health plan had to comply with the federal law.

There is one exception to what's otherwise no additional cost for employees. People enrolled in a Medical University of South Carolina pilot plan will pay $10 more to visit a specialist, as approved by the benefits agency.

The five-member fiscal oversight board has followed legislators' recommendations on health coverage since 2012. That's when Gov. Nikki Haley convinced a majority of the board, which she chairs, to split rising costs with employees, even though legislators designated money in the budget to cover workers' premiums.

The state Supreme Court overturned the decision, ruling in 2013 that the board overstepped its authority.

Prior to a government restructuring law that took effect July 1, the State Fiscal Accountability Authority was named the Budget and Control Board.

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