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Beebe: Won't call session over teacher health costs

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday that he won’t call lawmakers back to the Capitol to address a looming rise in teachers’ health insurance rates until there is enough support to pass short-term and long-term fixes to the insurance program.

Beebe told reporters that he’s talking with state officials and legislators about the options for addressing the up to 50 percent increase in premiums that 47,000 teachers will have to start paying on Jan. 1. Calls have increased among legislators for Beebe to convene a special session to help prevent the hike.

Beebe said finding consensus for a long-term solution may be more difficult than the short-term fix, which would be directing more state money to the insurance program.

“What it’s either going to take is money or systemic change, or both,” Beebe said. “So the long-term solution is the one that has the greatest degree of differences of opinion on how to address it.”

State officials have said an additional $53 million would be needed to keep the premium rates at their current levels. A state board last month approved increasing premiums by as much as 50 percent for the 47,000 teachers on the state plan starting Jan. 1. For example, the premium for family coverage under the most popular plan will increase from $1,029 to $1,528 a month.

Beebe has only called a special session once since taking office in 2007, when he convened lawmakers to the Capitol in 2008 to consider an increase in severance tax on natural gas to pay for road improvements.

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