More than 234,000 state employees will not have to pay an extra $7.24 a month for their health insurance next month, pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the increase before the state Supreme Court.
The justices temporarily halted the scheduled 4.6 percent increase Friday until they can decide if the increase is legal. The court scheduled a hearing on the lawsuit for 11 a.m. Jan. 23.
“Hopefully, it is a good sign ... that we’ll prevail in the lawsuit,” said Roger Smith, executive director of the S.C. Education Association, which joined the S.C. State Employees Association in suing the state.
The premiums for health insurance for state workers increase every year, and state workers usually have to help pay for those increased costs. But this year, the state Legislature – flush with an extra $1.4 billion in new money – voted to pay for 100 percent of the increase so state employees, some of whom had not received raises in years, would not have to bear any of the cost.
But that decision riled Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s first-term Republican governor. Haley persuaded a majority of the state Budget and Control Board – a five-member body that oversees the state health plan – to overrule the Legislature and split the cost of the health insurance increase evenly between state workers and state taxpayers.
The move saved the state $5.8 million. But it cost the average state worker an extra $7.24 a month, starting Jan. 1. State workers were outraged and quickly sued – going directly to the state Supreme Court.
Most state lawmakers support the lawsuit, arguing that Haley overstepped her authority by reversing the Legislature.
The court’s action delaying the increase should not derail the state health plan’s budget because the Legislature already had set aside $20 million to pay for the full increase.
The proposed increase would affect all 234,363 subscribers to the state health insurance plan, which includes retirees. Including dependents, the plan covers 415,362 people – 9 percent of the state’s population.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.