The company that sets insurance premiums for the 50,000 members of a state employee and retiree health plan is proposing an increase of 22.4 percent.
The state Public Employees Benefits Board was scheduled to vote Tuesday on new rates for 2002 but when members heard the size of the proposed increase they delayed action until Aug. 29.
''I almost fell out of my chair,'' said board member Carla Henson, in explaining why she favored a delay.
David Smith, chairman of the board, added, ''Half of us had heart attacks'' after viewing the option presented by the board's actuary, The Segal Co.
Board member Garth Dull said he would never vote to raise rates by 22 percent because many retirees can't afford it.
P. Forrest Thorne, executive director of the board, said a breakdown by Segal shows overall medical inflation rising 12 percent, with the cost of prescription drugs up 20 percent, dental care up 8 percent and vision care up 6 percent.
Thorne said the program is going to look for ways to soften the 22 percent, and seek further information on how much each employee group is costing the system.
For their health premiums, the state contributes $357 a month for each active employee and $202 for each retired employee.
With a 22 percent increase, state workers who covered spouses and children would have to pay $560 a month out of their own checks for the policy. A state retiree and a spouse would face a bill of $723 a month, over and above the $202 subsidy.
The report by Segal showed that for the first six months of this year, the system collected $36.5 million from active employees and paid $28.5 million in claims. For state retirees, the system collected $7.7 million in premiums and paid out $8.8 million, $1 million more than it collected