Hundreds of thousands of public workers, early retireesm and school employees in New Jersey are facing potential rate increases of as much as 24% for health benefits under proposals being considered by the State Health Benefits Commission.
Rate increases being considered include a 24% increase for medical and a 3.7% increase for pharmacy benefits for active public workers, as well as a 15.6% increase in medical and a 26.1% increase in pharmacy benefits for public workers who retired before the age of 65, according to an email sent to county administrators from New Jersey Association of Counties Executive Director John Donnadio.
Donnadio said in the email that the figures, which haven’t been made public, were shared by an insurance and benefits broker.
StateTreasury spokeswoman Jennifer Sciortino acknowledged rate increases were being considered and added that rates for active members and early retirees would likely increase between 12-20% across the various plans for the upcoming year.
A vote to approve the rate increases was scheduled for Monday, but the state health benefits board and the Division of Pension and Benefits postponed the vote after acknowledging during a public meeting on July 13 that more time would be needed to address questions and concerns, Sciortino said.
“As has been the official process for many years now, the presentation materials provided to the State Health Benefits Program and School Employees Health Benefits Program Commissions last week are confidential until the rates are finalized,” Sciortino said.
The New Jersey League of Municipalities on Wednesday sent an email urging members to contact their representatives and the governor’s office, prompting a public outcry from state and local governments, as well as Democratic and Republican state lawmakers.
“This is a staggering increase that will saddle taxpayers, public sector workers and educators with higher costs at a time when we are all contending with inflationary pressures and a possible recession,” state Senate President Nicholas Scutari, D-Union; Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex and Senate Budget Chairman Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said in a joint statement.
The Democratic state senators urged the board to reject the proposal and called on New Jersey Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio to use her authority to block the planned approval “and make sure a full accounting of the finances of the two health benefits’ plans is made public and fully discussed.”
Republican leadership in the state Legislature on Thursday called for the creation of a special legislative committee to investigate Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration for a “failure to control health care costs for public employees, retirees and taxpayers.”
“The 24% premium increase proposed for most active employees will take thousands more out of their paychecks annually and lead to huge costs for local governments that will translate into higher property tax bills for struggling families,” state Senate Republican Leader Steven Oroho, R-Sussex, said in a statement. “We must investigate the failures that led to these catastrophic premium increases to develop an effective plan going forward.”
The proposed rate increases shine a new spotlight on allegations that the Murphy administration squashed an attempt to recover $34 million the state paid to Horizon for a cost savings program that outside consultants found “yielded no apparent savings,” according to a report from Bloomberg.
Horizon administers health care plans for state and local government employees and retirees in New Jersey.
“It’s absolutely scandalous that high-level administration officials would intercede to prevent Horizon from being held accountable as premiums are set to skyrocket,” Senate Republican Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said in a statement. “Employees, retirees, and taxpayers deserve to know why.”
Sciortino said several “extraordinary factors” are affecting rates for the coming year, including higher utilization of medical services during the COVID-19 pandemic and a return to normal services and procedures that had been previously postponed.
Those factors are being compounded by rising prices amid historic inflationary pressures that have increased health care costs nationwide.
“While there is significant volatility in health care trends, the rate increases for the State plans are in line with rate increases that our consultants’ other clients are experiencing and are also being reported nationwide,” Sciortino said. “We believe that these circumstances are an anomaly, rather than the norm, and we believe that it is more likely than not that utilization and costs will normalize.”
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.
Washington, June 29, 2022 – The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors yesterday approved a US$500 million loan to bolster Egypt’s efforts to ensure that poor and vulnerable households have uninterrupted access to bread, to strengthen Egypt’s resilience to food crises and to support reforms in food security policies, including to improve nutritional outcomes.
The Emergency Food Security and Resilience Support Project will help cushion the impact of the war in Ukraine on food and nutrition security in Egypt. The Russian Federation and Ukraine are the world’s largest wheat exporters, and the war has driven up prices and created nutritional shortfalls, particularly for people who rely on bread for their daily nutritional needs. Bread is a staple in Egypt and this new project links wheat imports to direct assistance to the poor and vulnerable population through Egypt’s Bread Subsidy Program.
“This project supports the government’s strong commitment to ensuring that the needs of citizens continue to be met even amid a very challenging global context caused by concomitant crises such as COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine,” said Dr. Rania Al-Mashat,Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation. “In addition to ensuring sustained food security, this project supports national climate efforts by increasing agricultural resilience.”
The project will finance the public procurement of imported wheat, equivalent to one month of supply for the Bread Subsidy Program which supports around 70 million low-income Egyptians, including approximately 31 million people under the national poverty line. The project will also support national efforts to reduce waste and loss in the wheat supply chain through the upgrade and expansion of climate-resilient wheat silos, sustainably improve domestic cereal production, and strengthen Egypt’s preparedness and resilience to future shocks.
The new financing supports Egypt by mobilizing immediate short-term relief to address supply and price shocks while simultaneously bolstering Egypt’s longer term food security strategy and improved nutrition for the poor and vulnerable. A significant number of households in Egypt reduced their food consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic, which could have a lasting impact on nutrition and the cognitive development of young children. An improved nutrition strategy, including through balanced diets, is a key element of this project.
“This emergency operation comes at a very critical juncture when the food security of many countries is threatened by the war in Ukraine,” said Marina Wes, World Bank Country Director for Egypt Yemen and Djibouti. “It is part of broader World Bank efforts to support Egypt’s green, inclusive and resilient recovery. As always we are keen to continuously support Egypt in overcoming obstacles to its ambitious sustainable development plans and to further enable the country to pave the way for a prosperous and productive future for all its citizens.”
The project incorporates climate change efforts through a variety of interventions, including via investments to modernize wheat silos to significantly reduce wheat waste and loss, as well as introducing farmer extension and training programs that promote climate-smart agricultural practices.
On May 18, the World Bank announced actions it plans to take as part of a comprehensive, global response to the ongoing food security crisis, with up to $30 billion in existing and new projects in areas such as agriculture, nutrition, social protection, water and irrigation. This financing will include efforts to encourage food and fertilizer production, enhance food systems, facilitate more trade, and support vulnerable households and producers.