Judge’s order for Alabama education employees health care refunds might go on hold

A judge’s order that education employees receive refunds of part of their health insurance costs might be put on hold, at least temporarily.

Lawyers for former Alabama Education Association President Sheila Remington, who sued to challenge insurance cost increases, won’t oppose a stay of the ruling until a hearing can be held. In a request filed Friday, they asked for a hearing within three weeks.

Earlier on Friday, lawyers for the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan requested a stay of the order by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Johnny Hardwick. They filed notice that they would appeal his ruling.

Hardwick ruled on August 20 that PEEHIP’s board violated the Open Meetings Act when it met privately on April 27, 2016 to hear a presentation from the PEEHIP staff about the need for increases in premiums and surcharges.

The board held an open meeting later the same day and approved the increases, which took effect Oct. 1.

The board contends the morning meeting was a “training session” and not subject to the Open Meetings Act.

Hardwick disagreed. The judge invalidated the increases and ordered the refunds.

The monthly premium for single coverage increased from $15 to $30 a month. The monthly cost for family coverage including a spouse rose by $80.

Lawyers for PEEHIP cited multiple reasons in their request to stay Hardwick’s order for refunds. They said it would take 4,000 man-hours to calculate refunds in an insurance program with 150,000 members. They also note that, if PEEHIP ultimately prevails on appeal, the members would then be forced to return the refunded amounts.

“It would be a tremendous potential waste of time, money and human resources to refund or reduce PEEHIP premiums prematurely,” they wrote.

In a footnote, they say that PEEHIP projects a break-even year in 2019 even with the increases, and a shortfall of more than $200 million in 2020.

In the lawsuit, Remington objects to the increase, in part, because the Legislature granted PEEHIP’s request for a $23 million increase for the budget year that started Oct. 1.

The Legislature also approved a 4 percent cost of living raise for education employees.

Remington’s lawsuit contends that the Legislature intended that employees take home an extra 4 percent instead of having the raise partly offset by increased insurance costs.

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