Trenton – Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Paul Sarlo introduced legislation today that would expand the membership of the commissions responsible for approving any rate increases for public sector health benefits.
The bill would add a representative from a municipality, a county, county colleges, and a member representing school business officials to the State Health Benefits Program and the School Employees Health Benefits Program. The legislation would maintain the current balance of representation between employees and employers by increasing the number of employees as well. All members added under the bill would be appointed by the Governor, as current members are.
“This bill seeks to create fairer and more comprehensive conversations about healthcare costs by giving local governments, colleges, and school business administrators much needed representation when such impactful decisions are being made,” said Majority Leader Ruiz (D-Essex). “By providing these additional points of view, we can ensure that all potential concerns are addressed and develop more robust solutions for managing rising costs. At a time when residents are already feeling the worst effects of inflation and high prices in their daily lives, we should look to do everything in our power to mitigate this issue and avoid saddling our public employees, educators, and taxpayers with additional financial burdens.”
The Senate leaders acted in response to a proposal quietly scheduled for near-automatic approval by the SHBP and the SEHB that would increase health premiums by as much as 24 percent for public employees, educators and retirees. The meetings were postponed after Majority Leader Ruiz, Senator Sarlo and Senate President Nick Scutari urged the committees to put off approval of the proposal and provide more explanation and justification for the dramatic increases that would be costly to county and municipal government as well as taxpayers.
“Expanding the membership will allow for more deliberation and accountability of decisions that can have a costly impact on members, local government and taxpayers,” said Senator Sarlo, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “Health care costs are a top concern for workers, retirees and their government employers. The approval process should make sure these expenses are fair and justified.”
The legislation is another action undertaken by Majority Leader Ruiz and members of Senate Leadership to combat the drastic increases in health plan premiums facing the SHBP and SEHBP and advocate for measures to mitigate the financial impact of any rate changes. Senate Leadership has been proactively engaging in conversations with the Department of the Treasury, county and municipal officials, unions representing public employees, and others impacted by their decisions. A follow-up letter seeking further information and urging appropriate action from those with decision-making authority was also sent to the Treasurer last week.
“This legislation will finally give the community colleges a voice in making critical decisions impacting the health insurance we provide to over 5,500 employees in the state,” said Dr. Aaron Fichtner, president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges. “We thank Majority Leader Ruiz for recognizing this long-standing oversight and for taking action to correct it.”
“With the ominous prospect of facing unsustainable increases in healthcare costs of up to 24 percent in 2023, the New Jersey Association of Counties (NJAC) commends Senate Majority Leader Ruiz for her leadership in introducing legislation that will provide local governments and property taxpayers with long overdue representation in determining health benefit plan designs and costs for public employees under the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP),” said John G. Donnadio, Executive Director of the New Jersey Association of Counties.
“The recent news of a possible and unsustainable health care costs increase to employees and employers underscores and demonstrates the need for the voice of local governments, and their property taxpayers, to be at the table. We would like to express our appreciation to Senator Ruiz for her leadership, and urge quick passage of this legislation when the Legislature reconvenes,” said Michael F. Cerra, Executive Director of the NJ State League of Municipalities.