Paper points out cost of lawmakers’ insurance
Published 12:01 am Friday, May 22, 2015
As members of the Tennessee Legislature continue to draw criticism for failing to expand healthcare coverage for low-income residents, a Nashville newspaper is reporting the state has spent millions in taxpayer dollars to pay insurance premiums for lawmakers.
Earlier this year, Gov. Bill Haslam presented a plan to expand health care coverage using federal dollars. Insure Tennessee initially failed in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee during a special legislative session in February. During the regular session, the plan was brought to the committee again, passing this time only to then fail in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
This week, The Tennesseean reported state records show taxpayers have spent more than $8 million on health insurance premiums for sitting lawmakers enrolled in the state employee health insurance plan since 1992.
The Tennesseean reported State Sen. Rusty Crowe, who represents portions of Carter and Washington Counties, topped the list of 10 sitting lawmakers with the most state money going to their insurance premiums. Since 1992, taxpayers have spent more than $202,000 on health insurance premiums for Crowe and his family, The Tennesseean said, citing the state Benefits Administration office as the source of the figures. Crowe has paid just over $48,000 toward the cost of his health insurance plan, The Tennesseean said.
Crowe garnered criticism earlier this year over the Insure Tennessee plan. After initially voicing his support and intention to vote for the proposal, Crowe then voted against the plan during the special legislative session. He later reversed positions and supported the bill when it was brought back up.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who represents portions of Sullivan and Carter Counties, also made the top 10 list, The Tennessean reported, with taxpayers contributing $187,800 toward his insurance premiums since 1993 while Ramsey paid $45,000 on his insurance costs during that time.
Calls to Crowe’s office went unanswered on Thursday. A message left for Ramsey at his office was not returned by press time.
As part of their benefits package for their position, Tennessee lawmakers are given the opportunity to enroll in the state employee health insurance plan, said Connie Ridley, director of the Tennessee Office of Legislative Administration. Legislators, like regular full-time state employees, pay 20 percent of the cost of their medical insurance premium, and the state picks up the tab for the remaining 80 percent of the cost. If they want, Ridley said, the legislators can opt into vision and dental coverage plans, but they must pay the full premium because it is considered optional coverage.
While the members are considered part-time legislators, they are eligible for the state benefits package while regular state employees are only eligible if they are full-time.