The Facebook group TRAGIC, or Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance Changes, continued to surge this week as it partnered with local and statewide education organizations.
EmpowerED Georgia, a nonprofit organization made up of parents, educators and community members, partnered with TRAGIC this week and has vowed to help the group as it continues to raise awareness of changes to the 2014 State Health Benefit Plan that impacts more than 650,000 state employees.
Executive Director of EmpowerED Matt Jones said TRAGIC is an example of how Cherokee County is a role model for other counties when it comes to being active in education issues.
“We had a lot of members contact us about the group and also about their concerns with health care changes. We saw what TRAGIC was doing and we thought we’d assist them, to promote what they’re doing — raising awareness about the state insurance issue, and urging people to take action,” Jones said Tuesday. “We had the resources, and we offered to help them.”
Ashley Cline, creator of the group and wife of a Cherokee County school teacher, said the message of TRAGIC has now reached tens of thousands of people across the state through the group’s partnership with EmpowerED and other education organizations.
“We’re getting support from lots of different organizations,” Cline said Tuesday. “PAGE, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, has sent out an official email to members, we’ve also met with the Georgia Association of Educators, and we’re also meeting with Educators First. We’ve gotten a lot of support.”
Cline said EmpowerED has helped a lot already, and is “front and center” supporting TRAGIC, but there are also parent groups working to raise awareness.
The Cherokee County School Board was presented with a resolution from the Cherokee County Council of PTA, supporting the school system employees who are protesting the State Health Benefit Plan changes through TRAGIC, Cline said.
“We’ve also been reached out to by elected officials,” Cline added. “It’s a nice, big collaborative effort.”
Jones said EmpowerED has a history of helping grassroots movements, and the TRAGIC group represents thousands statewide who have shared “horror stories” with EmpowerED, about the 2014 State Health Benefit Plan.
“We talked to some of the leaders of TRAGIC and they’re going to be doing action items weekly, and we’re going to make it simple for their followers and our members to take those weekly actions,” Jones said.
In the first week after TRAGIC was founded, Cline asked members to call Gov. Nathan Deal’s office to show how many people had been impacted by the changes. Within three days, the governor’s office confirmed more than 600 calls had been logged from people in the group.
This week, TRAGIC asked its members to contact their representatives, as the legislature is in session, to voice their concern about the state employee health plans.
“It’s been going really well,” Cline said.
EmpowerED helped the TRAGIC group create a website where residents can quickly look up contact information for their representatives.
“On that Web page, people can actually look up their legislators and email them straight from the page,” Jones said. “They can also find their legislator’s phone number and make a call. We’re really trying to make that Web page kind of a one-stop-shop for information related to the insurance changes, and also provide tools for people to get more involved.”
Jennifer Hall, a Cherokee County teacher, said members of TRAGIC have been actively contacting their representatives this week.
“I do know a lot of members of TRAGIC are reaching out, our website has made it easy to do so,” Hall said.
Hall said the best part of the group is state employees can know “they are not alone” when it comes to questions and hardships regarding the new health care plan.
Hall said, while TRAGIC members are not doctors, they have compiled various documents on the Facebook page to help other state employees find information on where to start looking for solutions when they run into a problem.
Cline said the TRAGIC group is hoping to continue raising awareness of what they see as a problem with the 2014 State Health Benefit Plan changes, and bring about changes for next year’s plan.
“There’s certainly no reason they couldn’t look at adding more plan options back in for next year — that’s definitely the goal,” Cline said. “This is definitely impacting families in a negative way this year.”
Cline said the group has garnered members from a lot of different jobs, and “it’s not just a teacher issue, it’s a state employee issue.”
“We’ve got members from every corner of the state,” she added.
The 2014 State Health Benefit Plan offered state employees the option of three tiers of a HRA plan through the third-party administrator Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia.
The 2014 plan options were presented to a nine-member board, appointed by the governor, who approved the three-tier Health Reimbursement Arrangement, or HRA, plan options last August.
The 2013 plan offered state employees a choice of two different third-party administrators that offered the same set of plan options, which included: a High Deductible Health Plan, a Health Maintenance Organization option and a Health Reimbursement Arrangement.
The TRAGIC group was created Jan. 2, one day after the new State Health Benefit Plan took effect, and many state employees have voiced their concern about the changes in their health care plan.