Getting answers for overbilled Georgia retiree

ATLANTA -- Hundreds of retirees under Georgia's State Health Benefit Plan had an amount higher than the actual cost of their health premiums deducted from their accounts this month.

The news came after First Coast News got results for a viewer who said a large amount of money was taken from her account by the state.

Caryn Sirmans retired in mid-2013 after serving 30 years as a Georgia School teacher.

"It's got its fun days, but it has a few days that can make you get some gray hairs," Sirmans said.

Her retirement benefits kicked in with the Georgia Department of Community Health. Months later, she got a letter from the state dated December 16, 2013. The letter lists several reasons and said her January premium, under the State Health Benefit Plan was changing to $1,723.95.

She said she enrolledin an option that she thought would cost less than $200 a month. However, she said the state took $1,732.95 from her January paycheck.

"I have a little cushion. A lot of people unfortunately don't," she explained. "It's just the injustice of it. It seemed fraudulent to me. And I wanted my money."

Sirmans said she called several people, but was not getting satisfying answers. She called the On Your Side team for help.

"How am I going to pay this, how am I going to pay that? Is there any way they can send me a check right way?" Sirmans asked.

First Coast News called the Georgia Department of Community Health and got answers for Sirmans.

Pamela Keene, Media and Public Relations Manager for the Georgia Department of Community Health, said the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) learned that the January 2014 health premium deducted from some retiree member accounts exceeded the actual amount due to SHBP.

Keene said 377 retirees were affected andthat is wasthe result of a billing system error.

"First and foremost, the Department apologizes for any hardship this may have created and accepts full responsibility for this error," Keene wrote in an email.

Sirmans said "One of the real concerns is, is it going to happen again for February's check?"

Keene said those who have been affected will get an official letter from the SHBP. She said the department is taking these steps to remedy the issue:

-SHBP is working with the Employee Retirement System (ERS) and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) to refund the excess premium.

-ERS has agreed to automatically deposit the funds into the members' account electronically on Friday, January 10.

-Refunds to TRS retirees impacted by this error must be processed manually. All TRS retiree refunds will be processed and mailed no later than Friday, January 17.

-SHBP will fully reimburse members who have incurred any overdraft or late fees due to this error. Members should send documentation of those fees to this address:

SHBP - Refunds,P.O. Box 1990, Atlanta, GA 30301-1990

About the assurances made by the state, Sirmans said "Knowing that I'm going to get a refund check ... we're going on a verbal. I just hope that they keep their promises."

Anyone with any questions about the billing error can contact the SHBP Member Advocacy Unit Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1 (800) 610-1863.


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