ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal quickly moved to squelch what was threatening to become a major political liability when he ordered changes Monday to the State Health Benefit Plan.
“I don’t think there should be any political blame at all,” he told reporters when asked if the dissatisfied employees could hurt his re-election this year. “We are trying to do what is best for the citizens of our state and the taxpayers as well as those who work for our state, be they teachers or employees.”
His office and those of legislators have been flooded with calls and e-mails in the last three weeks from teachers, state workers and retirees angry over the discontinuation of a health-maintenance option that only required minimal copays for doctor visits and prescriptions.
As of Jan. 1, those who had participated in the HMO were forced to choose between options with deductibles and co-insurance payments that could have required them to pay as much as $10,000 yearly out of their own pockets per family.
From the start, Deal and his staff have tried to shift the blame to his appointees on the Community Health Board who voted to discontinue the HMO or to the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act health-reform law known as Obamacare.
“Admittedly, the cost of health care is rising,” he said Monday. “With the reforms of the Affordable Care Act, the models of what individuals are able to choose from in the marketplace have changed, and state government is trying to absorb those changes and to minimize the financial effect on our state employees.”
Reaction from two groups complaining the loudest may have been less than gratifying for the governor.
“We believe these changes are a first step toward alleviating our members’ concerns over their health care options,” said Tracey Nelson, lobbyist for the Georgia Association of Educators.
GAE remains concerned about the lack of choice in doctors in the provider network of Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the company that administers the state plan under this year’s contract.
And Ashely Cline, the wife of a teacher who launched a Facebook campaign that triggered most of the complaints to elected officials, said she is reserving judgment, as is the group she founded, Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance Changes, or TRAGIC.
“It does not address all of the shortcomings in the current plan, and we will have to examine the plan closely to see how it affects our members; however, we feel it is a step in the right direction,” she said.
But she also expressed frustration that no one has owned up.
“We feel the lack of communication from the Department of Community Health about issues facing the State Health Benefit Plan has been problematic, and the finger pointing and misinformation has been unacceptable,” she said.
Earlier in the morning, Deal tried to weaken another threat to his campaign when he announced the formation of Mayors for Deal while surrounded by more than two-dozen mayors from across the state. One of his primary challengers is fellow Republican David Pennington, the mayor of Dalton.