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Lawmakers concerned with health insurance contract

BISMARCK -- North Dakota lawmakers are moving swiftly to draft legislation requiring that a new health insurance contract for public employees and retirees contain no benefit changes for the next two years.

BISMARCK - North Dakota lawmakers are moving swiftly to draft legislation requiring that a new health insurance contract for public employees and retirees contain no benefit changes for the next two years.
The development comes one day after the board of the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System voted to switch its health coverage from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota to the Sanford Health Plan.
That change, which ends 37 years of health coverage by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, will take effect July 1.
The six-year contract - for the largest employer group in the state - is subject to renewal every two years. The contract’s estimated value over the two years ranges from $610 million to $640 million.
Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, appeared at Thursday’s NDPERS board meeting at the request of Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader, and was asked to deliver a message from legislative leadership.
But Keiser said he was not allowed to speak because a board member, Thomas Trenbeath, cut off discussion by bringing the decision to a vote. Trenbeath’s motion was quickly seconded and unanimously approved, after which the board moved on to other business, Keiser said.
The NDPERS board extensively studied the proposals by Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Sanford Plan over a period of seven months, and there was no new “material” information for the board to consider, Trenbeath said in making his motion, according to Keiser and a staff member of North Dakota United, which represents public employees.
“The fact that we weren’t allowed to make any comment is a little unusual, to say the least,” Keiser said, adding that a representative of North Dakota United also was not allowed to address the board before the vote.
One concern among public employees is a reference in a statement by NDPERS assuring members who use preferred providers under the system’s existing Preferred Provider Organization that the arrangement “will not have any disruption of services for the upcoming year.”
The one-year specification is causing concern among public employees, who worry changes might be made in the second year, said Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United.
Archuleta met Friday afternoon with Sparb Collins, executive director of NDPERS, to convey concerns and learn more about the new health insurance contract.
“Our members’ concerns are around that area of what is that network going to look like?” Archuleta said.
Jon Strinden, a Fargo lawyer who is president of the NDPERS board, said in a statement and interview on Thursday that, “Members will be able to use their current medical providers and be confident that the plan’s benefits will continue.”
The benefit package that the Sanford Health Plan will provide was designed by NDPERS and is identical to the health insurance provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, Collins said.
Legislators’ health coverage is provided by NDPERS. Keiser, whose Bismarck district includes many state employees, said the Legislature’s concerns are for their constituents and because the state pays the health insurance premiums for state employees.
“People are very concerned,” he said.
Cindy Morrison, Sanford public policy executive vice president, issued a statement Friday. The Sanford Health Plan and NDPERS also sent out information Friday providing a phone number and website, including answers to frequently asked questions, about benefits and provider network.
“We have met with Rep. Keiser and will meet with him again next week,” Morrison said. “I think much of his concerns have already been addressed in the frequently asked questions we published today.”
Members will not have to see Sanford Health providers. The Sanford Health Plan’s network includes more than 18,000 providers, and more than 90 percent of the NDPERS preferred provider network.
NDPERS members also will be able to continue getting specialty services at Mayo Clinic, the University Medical Centers and elsewhere, according to the information sheet.
Public employees also want assurances that information between Sanford providers and health insurance be kept apart, Keiser said.
Assuming there will be no changes in benefits or providers over the next two years, there will be no problems with the new health insurance contract, he said.
But, he added: “We’re going to get it in statute. The vendor is not the important thing, it’s that the plan remains whole.”
Keiser said he sent an email expressing his concerns to every legislator, and said there is a broad, bipartisan consensus about the need for legislation to ensure no changes in the health plan are made in the next two years.
Public employees would have liked to have been more involved in the health insurance decision, Archuleta said.
“We felt perhaps they didn’t have as much input in the process as they might have,” he said.
Collins and Denise Kolpack, a vice president and spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, were not available for comment Friday.

Related Topics: SANFORD HEALTHHEALTH
Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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