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State workers’ premiums to increase

Thu., July 9, 2009, midnight

OLYMPIA – Premiums, co-payments and other health care costs will rise next year for tens of thousands of state workers and retirees, including thousands around Spokane.

“This today is an absolute travesty,” said Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees.

Even with the increases, however, premiums for state employees will remain relatively low compared to what many private employers offer. Individuals in the most popular “Uniform Medical Plan,” for example, pay just $26 a month. That will rise to $41. For full family coverage, the premiums will rise from $82 a month to $123.

The state last year provided health coverage for nearly 230,000 workers and dependents.

“The new realities of the budget climate are that either the employee needs to bear a larger share, you scale back benefits, or you raise taxes on citizens to provide those benefits,” said Jason Mercier, with the Washington Policy Center.

State workers pay 12 percent of the cost of their premiums. A 2008 survey of 20 large employers by the Towers Perrin consulting firm, by comparison, found that an average employee’s share of health care premiums was nearly 23 percent.

The 12 percent ratio will remain unchanged. But to keep up with medical costs rising about 8 percent a year, workers will face not only the higher premiums, but also higher deductibles, co-pays and prescription costs. Under some state plans, the co-pay for some office visits, for example, will rise from $10 to $25.

Dozens of state workers crowded the Public Employees Benefits Board meeting Wednesday. The board voted 5-2 in favor of the increases.

Several workers urged the board to try something else. They said that state workers are already facing layoffs, deferred pension payments and two years without cost-of-living increases.

“Find a sensible solution that does not further attack state employees,” federation president Carol Dotlich told the board.

Board members said they had little choice, given the budget they were handed by state lawmakers.

“There’s no tougher time to be an HR (human resources) director than right now,” said state Department of Personnel director Eva Santos, who voted for the increases. The two “no” votes came from Devereux and state retiree Robert Porterfield.

Some lawmakers have criticized the state’s health plans as “Cadillac coverage” compared to what many private employees get. Federation leaders maintain that a fairer comparison is to look at the health plans of major employers like Microsoft and Boeing.

“This is not a mom-and-pop operation,” said federation spokesman Tim Welch. “This is the largest employer in the state.”


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