STATE ECONOMISTS: INSURANCE TRUST FUND SOLVENT, FOR NOW
Despite past worries that the main account that pays for state employees' health-insurance costs will go bust in the next three years, state economists now say that isn't the case.  

The economists this month came up with revised estimates that predict the state employee health-insurance trust fund will grow by hundreds of millions of dollars by 2022.

Economists agreed to increase the estimated cash balance in the trust fund at the end of the 2019-2020 fiscal year to $554.8 million, a near 38% jump from the previous estimate.

They also agreed to increase the ending cash balance for the following year to $400.3 million. And what was once expected to be a near $595 million deficit in fiscal year 2021-22 is now projected to be a positive cash balance of $17 million.

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The state employee health-insurance trust fund helps pay the health-insurance costs for state employees, retirees and dependents enrolled in the program. Money for the trust fund comes from premiums paid by employees and money set aside each year in the state budget.

The improved outlook is attributable to a number of factors, including an expected $174.5 million drop in medical claims and lower-than-anticipated enrollment in the state group health-insurance program.

While enrollment in the program continues to increase, it hasn’t grown at the levels that economists estimated when they last examined the program in March. Back then, economists predicted the program would grow by an average 0.96%. Now, they estimate an average 0.76% annual growth over the next six years.

The cost of providing health care to state workers remains a sizable expense for state government. Lawmakers set aside $2.78 billion for the program this year. And while the new estimates show positive cash flow for the next three years, economists predict the fund could run a deficit of up to $1 billion by mid-2024.