ATLANTA -- About 100 teachers used a furlough day or part of their winter break to bring their complaints to lawmakers Tuesday about changes in the State Health Benefit Plan.
The changes took effect Jan. 1, the day Cherokee County Teacher Nate Cline and his wife formed a Facebook group called Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance Changes, or T.R.A.G.I.C. By the end of that day, it had 400 members. Now it has ballooned to 14,000.
“Thank you TRAGIC for standing up for those of us who won’t stand up for ourselves,” said Beth Odom, a retired teacher from Richmond Hill near Savannah.
When the group first gained publicity, Gov. Nathan Deal brushed it off as grumbling instigated by the insurance company that had lost the state’s contract to administer the plan. Weeks later, he responded by instructing the Community Health Board that oversees the plan to make changes that will take effect next month.
But the teachers wearing green and waving homemade signs in the hot sun on the Capitol steps Tuesday said the modifications weren’t enough for them.
“This is a Band-Aid on an ax wound,” said Ashley Cline, Nate’s wife. “...We are hurting. We are angry. We are not going away.”
Cobb County band teacher John Palmer said the original changes were made to introduce “consumerism” to the plan so that the covered teachers and employees would make treatment choices that have personal financial consequences because more of the money would be coming out of their own pockets.
“They want us to have the consequences of using our healthcare so taxpayers can save a few pennies,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Community Health has said the changes were based on comments from employees about the steadily rising premiums. So the agency crafted the plan to hold premiums level but requiring payment of a deductible and sharing in the cost of treatments up to the first few thousand dollars, depending on the option chosen.
Most of the TRAGIC members were in a health maintenance organization no longer offered, and they never had to pay deductibles before the Jan. 1.
Cobb County teacher Kimberly Snider said her monthly prenatal doctor visits that used to require a $30 copayment now take $300 each until she satisfies her deductible. And she is bracing for her share of the delivery charges.
“At this point, it would be cheaper for me to quit my job, go on Medicaid and let the taxpayers pay for my baby,” she said.