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State, unions agree to slight bump in medical rates

OLYMPIA -- State officials and the state employees unions have a tentative agreement that bumps the amount workers pay for health care coverage up slightly.

Right now, the state picks up 88 percent, and the employees 12 percent of the cost of medical insurance. Just a few months ago, state officials said the state couldn't afford to keep paying such a big share, and were suggesting something in the range of 75 percent state/25 percent workers.

The state and its unions are negotiating new contracts, and have reopened some existing contracts. On Thursday night, the Washington Federation of State Employees announced they'd reached a tentative agreement:

State will pay 85 percent, employees will pay 15 percent.

Why did the state cut its request back so much? Glenn Kuper, a spokesman for the Office of Financial Management, said the most recent charges from use of the medical plans, along with new projections for costs over the next few years, indicate that the state won't be paying as much for its workers' health care costs. 

. State officials had projected that health costs would climb with the prospect of layoffs, as people who feared they may lose their jobs used health care while they had it. That didn't happen. In recent months, costs declined then levelled off, Kuper said.

The tentative agreement calls for the state to pay $850 and a worker to pay $150 a month. If rates rise, they will rise by that same ratio for both parties.

This is all tentative because contracts are still under negotiation.

The Washington Policy Center says the state needs to change the way it negotiates with its unions, and give the Legislature more say in setting state wages and benefits.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.