TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips and Assemblywoman Aura Dunn are proposing to overhaul the makeup of the State Health Benefits Commission following the board’s vote approving health premium rate increases that disproportionately impact local governments and taxpayers.
The State Health Benefits Commission on Wednesday approved rate hikes for health plans that cover public workers; however, state employee unions negotiated with Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration to reduce their employee contributions from the proposed 18% to 3%. Employees on the local and county level will see a spike of about 20% each.
“It’s unconscionable that the board could vote in favor of this plan when there is such a disparity between state and local employee rate increases,” DePhillips (R-Bergen) said. “Our local governments and property taxpayers cannot bear this burden just because they did not work out a last-minute backroom deal. It’s time we make sure they have a seat at the decision-making table.”
The State Health Benefits Commission administers the health benefits program for state employees. Its five members include the state treasurer, Department of Banking and Insurance commissioner, chair of the Civil Service Commission, and two representatives from public employee unions (currently one from AFL-CIO and one from CWA). There is no one from local government.
“Municipalities and taxpayers must have representation and a voice in the process to determine health rates,” Dunn (R-Morris) said. “New Jersey already has the highest property taxes in the nation and local employees will now face salary decreases and property tax increases because of the approved hikes. It is unjust and the system that allowed this to happen must be fixed.”
The rate hikes passed by a 3-1-1 vote. Commissioner Jennifer Higgins opposed, and Commissioner Dudley Burdge abstained. They are the two representatives from public employee unions.
Under the DePhillips and Dunn proposal, the New Jersey Association of Counties and New Jersey League of Municipalities would each select an administrator who would be appointed by Gov. Murphy, bringing the total number of commissioners to seven from five.
“New Jersey is an outlier again, and not for the positive. Health care rate increases in the double digits are going to make our state even more unaffordable. In the face of record-high inflation, this cost increase will be devastating,” DePhillips said.
According to a 2021 Society for Human Relations Management report, U.S. employers expected health care premium rates to jump nearly 5% this year.