SC Supreme Court to decide if Haley, budget board can raise insurance rates for state workers

09/25/2012 12:39 AM

09/25/2012 12:42 AM

The S.C. Supreme Court will decide if Gov. Nikki Haley and the State Budget and Control Board can raise health insurance rates for 234,363 state workers and their families.

The court said Friday it will hear two lawsuits brought by state workers seeking to block the health insurance increase, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. But the court did not stall the increase while the lawsuit is pending. And it could be Dec. 15 before justices hear arguments in the case, according to the deadlines set for attorneys to file their legal briefs.

That means hundreds of thousands of state workers won’t be sure what to do when open enrollment for insurance coverage begins next month, said Jackie Hicks, president of the S.C. Education Association, one of the two state employee groups who filed the lawsuit.

State workers are hopeful the court will decide the case before January. If not, they could ask the court to delay the increase, said W. Allen Nickels III, an attorney representing the Education Association and the State Employees Association.

In July, the Legislature voted overwhelmingly not to raise insurance rates on state workers. But last month, the Budget and Control Board voted 3-2 to raise the rates anyway – a 4.6 percent increase, or $7.24 a month for each employee.

Haley praised the board’s decision, saying it will save taxpayers $5.8 million a year. But the vote infuriated state lawmakers, who said the governor could not overrule their decision.

Neither Haley nor the other members of the Budget and Control Board objected to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case, rather than have a lower court first hear it.

“Having a trial court decide the matters in the first instance and then having the Supreme Court review the matters on appeal could take a long time,” Mitch Brown, an attorney representing Haley and the budget board, wrote in an email to The State newspaper.

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