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Educators likely will not see a premium increase on their insurance this year

Brandon Moseley



The Alabama House Ways and Means Education Committee heard an update on the Public Educators Health Insurance Program at a hearing in Montgomery on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

The CFO and Chief Accountant Officer of the Retirement Systems of Alabama Diane Scott briefed the Legislature on the health of the PEEHIP program.

“PEEHIP began in 1983,” Scott said. “The purpose was to provide healthcare benefits for education employees and retirees.”

Scott said that PEEHIP has three hospital and medical plans as well as dental and vision plans. Most active education employees are with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. Education employees also have the option of using VIVA Health. Only 2,500 participants are in the VIVA option. Medicare Eligible Retirees are covered by United Health Care.

Scott said that PEEHIP provides healthcare coverage to over 300,000 people. Of those, 83,223 are active education employees, 68,070 are retirees, 149,851 are covered dependents and 97 to 98 percent are Alabama residents. Some retirees live out of state.

“PEEHIP is governed by the same board as [Teachers Retirement System],” Scott said.

“That is a lot of Alabamians covered by the plan,” said Chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa. “The employer match is paid out of our budget on behalf of the state of Alabama.”

Scott said for the first 20 years, the cost was $500 million a year. In the last 17 years, it has gone up to $1.5 billion. A special session was held in 2004 to deal with PEEHIP, so changes occurred starting in 2005. The cost continued to go up to 2010 and 2011.


“Beginning in 2011, we shifted some cost over to our members by increasing deductibles and copays,” Scott said. “We did a dependent eligibility verification. Then, we were able to get some dependents off the system. That lowered costs some, and we have continued to do that going forward. Costs leveled off in 2015 and 2016 due to changes made by the Legislature. We stopped some pharmacy scamming that was going on. On Jan. 1 2017, we switched to a Medicare Advantage program for Medicare eligible retirees. That saved $75 million a year.”

“We have fewer earlier retirees having to do with legislation that was passed in 2011,” Scott said. “I expect that we will continue to see a reduction in the pre-65 enrollments simply because those premiums are so high.”

Poole commented on the ration of retirees to active employees on the plan.

“That ratio is increasing toward one to one,” Scott said. “We may get to more retirees than actives. The number of actives are flat. We really are not increasing the number of teachers in the classroom over recent years. That means we have to ask for more money from the Legislature.”

Retirees are increasing 2,000 to 2,500 a year.

“I don’t want to reduce quality of care and reduce benefits,” Scott said. “We are putting more focus on the wellness thing. Sixty percent of our population is either diabetic or pre-diabetic.”

Scott said that PEEHIP is working on initiatives for weight management. We know that if employees can control their weight; if they control their diabetes to avoid it worsening and getting into costly chronic care; and can avoid moving from a pre-diabetic state to diabetes it will save money Scott said.

Scott said that there has been a 5 percent annual growth rate in costs of medical from 2003 to 2020.

“Members pay almost $400 million out of their pocket,” Scott said. “That is in premiums, copays and deductibles. Total employer funding is $947.1 million. $53 million comes from the universities and PEEHIP has $4.39 million in investment income

In the last three years, the cost of PEEHIP to the education trust fund budget has been level at $944.7 million and $944.7 million, Scott said. Scott said that PEEHIP was not increasing their request in fiscal year 2020.

Scott said that cost to the education trust fund is $800 per active member per month for fiscal year. It has been $800 for three years straight fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019. Scott said that the fiscal year 2020 request is still just $800 per active employee per month.

“I want to thank PEEHIP for keeping that level for the third consecutive year,” Poole said. “For the third year, PEEHIP will not have to increase premiums for teachers. It is up to the PEEHIP board, but that means for the third year, there appears to be level costs. I am very appreciative of that.”

Scott predicted that total medical and pharmaceutical costs will be over $1.44 billion in fiscal year 2020. That includes members share. It is expected to rise to $1.52 billion in fiscal year 2021.

“We know that as members get older, they require more healthcare typically,” Scott said.

Scott said that PEEHIP received $800 per active per month in funding from the legislature for FY 2018, and $329 of that went to subsidize an active member’s coverage. Another $223.62 went to pay for dependents’ coverage and $136.46 for retirees care.

Starting in 1987, the individual coverage premium was $2 a month, Scott said. It has gone up since then, but there have been very few premium increases for active members.

From fiscal year 1987 to FY 2010, the individual premium was $2 per month. From FY 2011 to FY 2016, it was $15 per month. From FY 2017 to the present, it is just $30 per month, except for the first three transitional years of PEEHIP’s existence — 1984–1986 — dependent coverage from FY 1987 to FY 1989 it was $93 per month. From FY 1990 to FY 2000, it was $122 per month. From FY 2001 to FY 2010, dependent coverage was $132 per month. From FY 2011 to FY 2012, it was $162 per month. From FY 2013 to the present, it has been $177 per month. Starting in 2018, spouse-only coverage was added as an option.

There is a tobacco surcharge. When that was implemented, 16.5 percent of members were tobacco users. By Jan. 31, 2019, that had dropped to where only 8.84 percent are tobacco users. If members don’t do their wellness activities, they are charged a $50 a month surcharge.

Administrative costs are just $4 million — .3 percent of the program.

“One thing we do to control costs is to have divorce audits,” Scott said. “While the terms of the divorce may require someone to provide health insurance to their divorced spouse, it does not require that they get PEEHIP. We regularly do divorce audits.”

Scott said that PEEHIP has a retirees trust fund that was established in 2007. We have a balance of $1.436 billion. The Retiree Trust has been funded by two transfers from PEEHIP in 2007 and 2008 totaling $631 million. In 2015, $92 million was taken out, and in 2016, $32 million was taken out to address funding shortfalls. The Legislature has never appropriated money to the retiree trust, and no member money has been appropriated to the retiree trust.

PEEHIP’s unfunded liability has dropped from $12 billion to $8.842 billion in 2017.

To read more about PEEHIP, click here.



UAH researchers and the world’s fastest supercomputer join the fight against the COVID-19 virus

Brandon Moseley



More and more of Alabama’s brainpower is being redirected into fighting the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Dr. Jerome Baudry is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Dr. Baudry and his lab are involved in a project that is using the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit supercomputer to examine compounds to fight the virus that has already killed 34,807 people as of early Monday morning.

The compounds under review include drugs already available with safe profiles, as well as natural products. Compounds identified as possible future drugs will also be studied.

“We are at this point focusing on repurposing existing drugs,” Dr. Baudry said. “That is, to take existing drugs from the shelf and find which ones are active against either the virus itself or can help in treating or mitigating the effects of infection in the severe cases.”

Dr. Baudry said that about 30 researchers are involved in the project, and are working around the clock. The group is studying how the virus ticks, including how it expresses proteins, for clues on how to defeat it.

“We can use high performance computers and supercomputers to look at the entire genome of the virus, see everything the virus’ genome is making and build computational models of all these proteins, and repeat the repurposing process for each of these proteins,” Dr. Baudry said.

Scientists in the group are starting with some proteins on the surface of the virus in an attempt to prevent it from infecting human cells.

“We are also looking at some of the proteins that allow the virus to replicate itself when it is inside the human cell in order to block this process, a bit like for many anti-AIDS drugs,” Dr. Baudry explained. “But we will expand to pretty much everything in the virus’ genome that can be targeted by a drug.”


Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s 200 petaflop supercomputer allows researchers unprecedented access to solving this and some of the world’s other most pressing challenges.

Researchers have a databases about virtually all existing drugs, natural products or molecules that may not have been tested yet as drugs. There are thousands of them. Then they build virtual models of these compounds using the laws of physics and chemistry to calculate their composition and arrive at a very detailed computational description.

“Then we look at the virus’ genome,” Dr. Baudry said. “We have to build models for all the virus’ proteins, again describing all the atoms, their properties, how they move together, etc.”

The supercomputers then compute how the atoms of a possible drug will interact with the atoms of the virus’ proteins.

“It’s like doing a test tube experiment to see if a possible drug will bind to the protein, except that we perform this in a virtual test tube using our computers,” Baudry explained.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones explained to the Alabama Political Reporter, “Researchers across Alabama are working around the clock to assess potential treatment for the novel COVID-19. The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and Dr. Baudry are using technology, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit supercomputer, to examine compounds from safe, existing drugs as well as natural products. Repurposing existing drugs is a strategy that can expedite the process if a potential cure or treatment is found. The drugs are already on the shelf, why not test them to see if they can be useful? The high performance computers and supercomputers allow researchers to examine the entire genome of the virus and how it reacts. UAH’s latest announcement is another example of the brainpower we have in Alabama and our state’s commitment to combating this pandemic.”

UAB, Southern Research Institute, Hudson Alpha, and Alabama biotech firms are also working on finding drugs that will treat COVID-19 as well as hoping to develop a vaccine to prevent it.

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Working to educate Alabama’s kids when they aren’t in a classroom

Brandon Moseley



Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Board of Education have said Alabama’s children will not be returning to their classrooms on April 6, but they will be returning to their studies.

“Beginning at the start of school on April 6, 2020, all public K-12 schools shall implement a plan to complete the 2019-2020 school year using alternate methods of instruction as established by the State Superintendent of Education,” Ivey announced.

The education community is trying to figure out exactly what this means.

“Learning must continue,” former State Representative Perry O. Hooper Jr. said. “We have an obligation to our students to provide them with the means to continue their education during this pandemic.”

“Beginning April 7th School Districts, under guidance from the State Department, must develop study plans for students and have the means to assess what learning occurred,” Hooper added. “Districts must offer online or paper-based instruction based on available resources.”

There was an assumption by many that this would mean a shift to E-learning. The Alabama Political Reporter, however, has been told that there are problems with implementing that strategy.

Veteran Jefferson County educator Lara McClendon told APR, “My kids don’t have devices.”

Without their own computers or smartphones, kids can’t access E-learning even if the school were to suddenly start live-streaming classes to them in their homes.


Brian Rhodes is president and owner of BBB Educational Enterprises Inc., a Birmingham based education company.

Rhodes said that if 650,000 Alabama school children all go online at the same time with live streams from their schools there isn’t enough bandwidth to handle it, especially with their parents all working from home clogging the internet infrastructure.

“The pipeline can’t handle it,” Rhodes warned.

APR asked what about kids without internet access or the child whose internet is accessed in his or her mom’s car from the parking lot of a McDonalds or library.

Rhodes predicted that they would struggle to keep up.

The crisis has exposed the state’s lack of broadband.

“Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak, Alabama cable providers rolled out no-cost and low-cost options for high-speed internet access to the state’s students and low-income populations hit hardest by closures and other impacts of the virus,” ACBA Executive Director Michelle Roth said. “These efforts include offering free broadband and Wi-Fi access for up to 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students, extending low-cost broadband programs, opening Wi-Fi hotspots for public use, eliminating disconnections of internet service for customers having difficulty paying, and increasing internet speeds universally.”

APR asked Rhodes if you ‘Can you hold back a child who was passing all of his classes when school ended because he does not have internet access.

“I don’t think you can,” Rhodes said. “Not if he was doing well before.”

Rhodes did believe that the schools could continue to give grades during these eight weeks of at-home instruction.

Another option that was discussed was sending home a stack of worksheets for the children to work on at home with some printed out lecture materials.

Rhodes said that is what he thought many systems would do, but predicted that worksheets alone without that interaction with a teacher would be insufficient for kids reading skills to improve during this period of social distancing.

McClendon said that school systems often ration the copies that a teacher can make and charges teachers who print off more than the rationed amount.

APR asked if the teachers have pupil supply money left to pay for materials during this crisis.

Some do, most have already spent it on materials for their classroom,” McClendon said.

Rhodes proposed actually sending books to the kids.

“The key thing is getting something in the kids’ hands,” Rhodes said. “We have got to get books out to kids.”

APR asked how much this would cost.

“Three or four $7 or $8 books and would only cost about $40,” Rhodes said. “I am not talking about a lot of money, with a bag to put them in maybe $50 to 55 a kid.”

APR asked, If you send books home, is there a danger you won’t get them back?

Rhodes said that was no problem. Let them keep them as the start of their own home library.

Rhodes’ plan would be to do this for every kindergarten through second graders and K-3 if there was enough money and that each school system should pick the books that best match the skill levels of their students as well as their own cultural issues. The teachers would then give assignments from the books as well as lead online small group discussions on the materials. Rhodes suggested that the legislature pay for it with a supplemental appropriation.

APR asked McClendon if this proposal would help.

“In some systems, it probably would,” McClendon said.

“It’s my belief that teachers need to be in contact with families on a regular basis,” Hooper said. “Teachers must help students set goals. Furthermore, School Districts should reach out to all available resources both public and private.”

Rhodes said that it was important to get buy-in from parents. Give them instructions and goals, but don’t make it too complicated.

McClendon said that her students understand the technology.

“We do google classroom all the time,” McClendon said. “It’s the parents who don’t understand the technology.”

APR asked: what about the kid in the third grade who reads at a first-grade level?

“Any of our kids who are struggling readers will” fall further behind no matter what we do Rhodes said. “They need one on one with a teacher. You are never going to be able to get that with this. The variations are too great. “The technology is not sufficient.”

McClendon predicted, “Everybody is going to be behind.”

APR asked if the school systems would encourage teachers to work from home as much as possible or would they require the teachers to report to their school building despite the virus risk.

“I don’t know what they are going to do,” McClendon said.

APR asked McClendon if the teachers would benefit from a special influx of pupil supply money to pay for the costs of materials for home learning.

“Yes they would,” she answered.

“Congress must step up to the plate and offer financial assistance to k- 12 education much like the congress is doing for large and small businesses in this time of crisis,” Hooper said.

APR reached out to U.S. Senator Doug Jones (R-Alabama) to see if federal resources were available to address the unexpected costs of suddenly transforming the way the state educates it’s children by this time next week.

A spokesperson for Sen. Jones said the Congress has provided for relief for school systems in the stimulus, “The Phase III deal provides money for an Elementary and Secondary Education School Emergency Relief Fund. According to CRS, Alabama should be getting roughly $216.9 million. That will go to the state then be distributed to school districts.”

The coronavirus stimulus passed the Senate on Wednesday, was passed by the Senate on Friday and then signed by President Donald J. Trump.

“We also must learn from this experience,” Hooper said. “Every state and every school district should have contingency plans developed for every possible disruption to classroom learning. We did not see this coming. Its shame on us if we are not prepared for the next national emergency. Vice President Pence has called the teachers who continue to interact with students remotely American heroes.”

The Alabama public schools sere 744,845 students in 1,530 public schools.

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Alabama community colleges online for rest of semester

Eddie Burkhalter



Alabama’s community colleges will continue with online classes throughout the remainder of the spring semester, and commencement activities are postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alabama Community College System announced the extension of online-only classes Friday.

College campuses remain closed to public gatherings. 

“Every decision concerning the operations of Alabama’s community colleges is being made with the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and administrators at the forefront,” said ACCS Chancellor Jimmy Baker in a statement. “While we couldn’t have imagined what this semester would look like for our colleges, I am incredibly grateful for the creativity, resilience, and commitment to learning shown by our faculty, staff, and students during this difficult time.”

ACCS colleges will offer summer courses, but it’s unclear whether they’ll be conducted in-person or online.

ACCS is awaiting guidance from local, state and federal officials before making that determination.

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Resources for parents educating kids at home

Brandon Moseley



Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced what most people were already expecting and that is the children will not return to school in the 2019-2020 school year.

The responsibility for education now falls entirely to the parents of the state.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has led the Governor to close the schools to protect the health of the children. The move protects the children of Alabama from catching COVID-19, but it creates enormous challenges for their education. The schools are supposed to reopen sometime in August, but even that is in doubt at this point.

While no one wants Alabama students and their families to get sick, they also need to learn the skills that they were supposed to be learning in school. Eight to nine weeks of instruction are now effectively lost for all time.

This is a challenge for parents who want their children to be all they can be, but it also allows parents to take more control of their children’s education than the public school format allowed.

The Bible can serve as a reader. That might not be ideal; but reading is like learning to shoot a basketball, hit a baseball, or ride a bike it takes practice. Set time aside every day for reading. Whether the internet is available or not, reading out loud is a useful way to improve a child’s reading skills and allows the parent to gauge the child’s skill level.

Another time tested resource is the Dick and Jane reading series. Generations of children have learned how to read with this widely available series of books that are available in almost any bookstore and at some Wal-Marts.

There are a plethora of books available for beginning readers. The best known are the Dr. Seuss books. There is more information as well as activities at their website:


Math is an area where parents probably need to focus efforts on. The Alabama public schools are notoriously bad at teaching math. In recent standardized testing of fourth and eighth graders, Alabama scored last among the 50 states.

Math facts are best memorized and flashcards and math bingo games are useful resources to have to improve basic math skills. Multiplication, addition, subtraction, and division tables can all be printed out and written and rewritten over and over again. Counting out money and making change is another skill that can easily be taught at home and at the grocery store.

There are also online resources available including:

As children advance into higher grades and study: long multiplication, long division, integers, fractions, the metric system, geometry, algebra etc. is probably takes a textbook. Those can also be bought as e-books and as workbooks. There are many online resources also available.

Many students need speech and language therapy, which they get at school. Unfortunately, the children aren’t in school so don’t have access to those resources. This site provides a list of links to those services to children that need them.

NASA is providing educational education plans for kids on their website during the forced national economic shutdown.

Teaching a love and appreciation for history also sharpens reading comprehension skills and makes for better citizens. There are many history resources available.

The Georgia Public Broadcasting System has resources for teaching Black History.

The Alabama Bicentennial Page has Alabama History resources.

Alabama Public Television has many resources to help parents transition to becoming parent and teacher on their website.

Teaching your children yourself also adds the benefit of being able to teach and share your faith. Many Churches offer online resources for parents eager to educate their children. With most Churches having shut down their Sunday schools and Parish Schools of Religion (PSR)for fear of COVID-19 the only religious education about faith and God will likely come from the parents during this time.

Catholic Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville recommends for children: “Teaching Catholic Kids.”

The site has arts, crafts and activities for home & school inspired by faith as well as a long list of links for parents looking for lessons and activities for their children as they shelter in place.

Alabama based EWTN also has resources for parents during these times on the website.

Landmark Baptist Church is offering their own home school curriculum.

Gov. Ivey has ordered Alabama’s many school systems to come up with a plan for the home learning program by April 6. What that will be and what value that will have, if any, no one knows at this time; but will likely vary wildly from system to system. E-Learning would be one option, but many Alabamians do not have broadband; thus the fear is that by adopting an E-learning program would result in the haves – those with broadband and a caring parent excelling while the have not – those with no broadband and a lackadaisical uninvolved parent would fall further behind.

No one knows when school will begin and what that will look like when it does happen, but it will take a commitment on the part of parents and students to continue to build educational achievement during this crisis.


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