Within less than three days of being created, the group to bring awareness of 2014 changes in insurance for teachers and other state employees had already surpassed 1,600 members.
The group, “Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance Changes,” or TRAGIC, was created Thursday morning by Canton resident Ashley Cline, whose husband is a teacher in Cherokee County.
“I had no idea this would take off like a train,” Cline said Friday. “It’s spreading across the state. It started in mostly Cherokee, then we got some people from Cobb, I saw some from Bartow, we had a woman post last night from south (Georgia), in Valdosta.”
Cline said the health insurance changes to the State Health Benefit Plan for 2014, offered to state employees through the Georgia Department of Community Health, impact all state employees.
“The changes affects basically all state employees, we all have the same insurance — if you’re a teacher, or at a public university system, even retirees. From what I can tell it’s about 650,000 employees and their families,” she said.
Cline said the plan was “sold as a huge savings for taxpayers.” But, she said “if people knew what teachers and state employees were going through, they’d be questioning it.”
“We’re taxpayers, too,” she said. “I’m a Republican, and I understand the need to save, but not on the backs of teachers and state employees.”
Woodstock resident Jennifer Hall, a teacher for more than two decades, said she joined the TRAGIC group immediately after it was created.
“Previously, we’ve always had more than one option,” Hall said. “Now, we have no choice at all.”
Cline said there was always a choice for state employees between different types of health insurance plans from different providers.
“There were HMOs, PPOs, we could’ve done an HRA account. This year, they went to a single-tier system,” Cline said. “We’ve got one company, Blue Cross-Blue Shield.”
Cline said the changes hit her family hard, and many members who’ve joined the TRAGIC group have similar stories, she said.
“We’ve got a 4-year-old daughter in occupational therapy — she’s got special needs — and I’m scared to death,” Cline said. “We’ve been paying out-of-pocket for occupational therapy and we had a $25 co-pay for as long as we can remember. Now, under this new plan, I have to pay $130 a week; $1,000 gets me four hours of therapy a month.”
Cline said she’d spent more than 10 hours on the phone with Blue Cross-Blue Shield representatives in the past two weeks, and said “they are just as confused as we are.”
“Everybody’s in the same boat,” Cline said. “I knew we weren’t alone.”
Hall said if there’s a catastrophe, “we’re basically all sunk.”
“There’s no co-pay; you can’t manage your costs. You have to have it all up front,” Hall said.
Cline said the insurance costs for state employees and retirees could get “out of hand” quickly.
“The main issue with the new plan is there’s no more co-pays,” Cline said. “Everything is out-of-pocket up front. Everyone’s got a minimum of a $1,500 deductible, and that’s the $600 a month plan. It’s bad, it’s real bad. And this is a state plan, this affects hundreds of thousands of people.”
The Department of Community Health was unable to be reached for comment by press time.
Cline said the state has been “shady” when it comes to information on the plans, and many people have questions.
“The state promised us, ‘We’ll get you information, we’ll do seminars for you,’” Cline said. “Basically, the information was posted online two days prior to open enrollment, and you’ve got seven days to make an election and read through all these changes.”
Hall said one of the main focuses of the TRAGIC Facebook group online is to help bring information to one location for people who are impacted by the plan.
“It’s for people to share information,” Hall said. “So a lot of it is information and just asking questions.”
But Hall said there is a bigger purpose for the group’s future.
“The bigger focus is trying to affect change, and getting to the state and the governor where all this began,” Hall said. “I think it’s ethically wrong to save a few dollars per taxpayer, on the backs of state employees. The savings to the taxpayer will be negligible compared to our cost.”
Cline said many people are blaming Obamacare, but she thinks that is “just a perfect scapegoat.”
“They thought ‘Well, we’ll just change everything and people will blame Obama,’” Cline said. “They didn’t have to do this. They had options.”