Public employees and teachers in New Jersey are bracing for a huge increase in health benefit costs.

The process of approving rate increases is typically secretive until State Health Benefits Commission meets to approve them. A meeting that was scheduled for Monday, July 18, was postponed. It has been rescheduled for Wednesday, July 27.

Details of the proposed rate increases began leaking out this week. First reported by the New Jersey Association of Counties and then by the Ne Jersey League of Municipalities in e-mails to members.

For active public employees, a 24% increase in medical and a 3.7% in pharmacy benefits. For early retirees (before age 65), the rate hikes could be as much as 15.6% for medical and 26.1% for pharmacy benefits.

The rate hikes took state lawmakers by surprise.

State Sen. Declan O'sanlon, R-Monmouth, called them "scandalous" and accused the Murphy administration of allowing Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the benefits administrator, to take advantage of public employees.

Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho, R-Sussex, called for an investigation.

President of the State Senate, Nick Scutari, D-Union, called the increases "staggering," and pressed for State Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio to step in and block the increases.

Gov. Phil Murphy's administration has not commented on the proposed increases.

A spokesman for the treasury would not comment on specifics, but did confirm to NJ.com that rate increases were being discussed. She blamed the increases on "volatility in health care trends."

Eric Scott is the senior political director and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at eric.scott@townsquaremedia.com

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