59th Legislature kicks off with Stitt's State of the State speech

by Jessica Garvin

The 1st Session of the 59th Legislature is off and running. We officially convened in session at noon on Monday in the Senate Chamber with our House colleagues doing the same across the rotunda. We then convened in joint session for Governor Stitt’s fifth State of the State address, which focused on education, continuing efforts to make Oklahoma the most business-friendly state in the nation and protecting Oklahomans.

I also worked on my presentations for my three bills set to be considered in the Retirement and Insurance Committee Tuesday. This will be my first meeting of the session, and I am looking forward to explaining these important measures and answering my colleagues’ questions. Committee consideration is the first of many hurdles a bill must pass before it gets to the governor’s desk.

The three measures are Senate Bills 13, 87 and 91. I’ve already talked about the first bill, which would prohibit any pharmaceutical drug plan or pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) from refusing to approve, pay, or authorize the dispensation of a white-bagged drug, which is a medication that a PBM wants to provide from their pharmacy of choice, rather than a hospital’s pharmacy when someone is admitted to the hospital.

The other two bills deal with state and school employee benefits and, specifically, the amount paid to employees who opt out of receiving the pre-tax basic health and dental plan benefit provided to all such employees in the state. The monthly individual flexible benefit allowance (FBA) for 2023 for state employees was $686. Currently, state employees who opt out of receiving the benefit plan receive a taxable $150 monthly stipend. Starting with FY’24, SB 87 would increase that opt-out payment to one-half of the flexible benefit allowance amount for the given plan year per month as taxable compensation in lieu of the full flexible benefits allowance amount. For example, this year, it would have bumped the opt-out stipend to just over $343—more than doubling what state employees who opt out currently get.

Unlike state employees who get a set FBA each year that they can utilize for their health benefits as they see fit, teachers and support staff get their personal health benefits covered 100% by the state, which for this year is $640, the price of the Health Choice High plan. Certified personnel, in lieu of FBA, can receive just under $70 while support staff can get nearly $190.

SB 91 would provide those who opt out with half the value of the year’s benefit allowance.

Having the flexible benefit allowance is a major perk for state and school employees but some individuals can get better insurance through their spouse’s job, or they have military or other benefits and simply don’t need other health insurance, so this is an effort to try to make the benefit fairer for everyone while also protecting the state’s insurance pool.

I think these bills are a fair compromise, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. If you have any other questions or concerns on legislative matters, please contact me at the Capitol. Write to Senator Jessica Garvin, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 237, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email: Jessica.Garvin@oksenate.gov or call (405) 521-5522.

----From the Desk of Sen. Jessica Garvin