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November 17, 2004   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
November 17, 2004

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The Alabama House and Senate gave final approval of Gov. Bob Riley's five-bill healthcare reform package on Tuesday. Each bill passed unanimously or by a heavy margin.

Federation Director of Governmental Affairs Freddie Patterson said the reform package isn't a cure-all.

"With healthcare costs continuing to rise, we will be faced with this issue again in the near future," said Patterson.

The new laws passed during a session this week allow employees to choose various healthcare options. In addition, the boards that govern healthcare plans for state employees and education employees have more discretion regarding cost increases for those employees. Under new laws passed during the session, each of these boards would require a two-thirds majority vote to increase employees' cost. Previously, it took a simple majority of votes among board members to make a change.

Also, a new requirement in the governor's plan requires smokers and other employees with higher risks to pay higher premiums. The plan won't require current state employees to pay more for healthcare immediately, except those who use tobacco products. Most increases will occur next year.

Public employees who retire after Sept. 30 next year and have less than 25 years of service, also will have to pay higher costs for their coverage. The new plan requires state employees who retire and take another job to use the new employer's insurance rather than the state's plan if the new coverage pays at least 50 percent of the coverage cost.

The Legislature will begin its regular session in February where it will be faced with a projected $350 million shortfall in the General Fund Budget. Patterson said he expects a multitude of bills to be introduced during the session that will seek tax increases for property owners and businesses in the state.

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