95 state workers agree to pay part of health insurance costs

Governor, lieutenant governor lead the way

A total of 93 state officials and employees – including 20 unionized workers – joined Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds in signing up for a new state-funded health insurance plan that allows them to voluntarily pay 20 percent of their premium costs beginning Aug. 1 and running through the rest of this calendar year.

The names of Branstad, Reynolds, State Auditor David Vaudt, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, about 30 top executive branch department headsand administrators and more than a dozen people within the Governor’s Office were among the 95 enrollees in the new health-insurance option released late Friday afternoon by the state Department of Administrative Services.

On July 2, Branstad signed an executive order establishing that state workers may voluntarily pay 20 percent of health care insurance premiums and the Iowa Executive Council authorized the new option later that day. At the time, Department of Administrative Services  officials said that 88 percent of state workers do not contribute anything toward their health insurance premium and, in total, Iowa taxpayers fund 97 cents of every one dollar spent on health-care premiums.

Eligible state government employees or officials had until July 19 to enroll in the new insurance option.

Branstad – who was participating in a trade mission in Chile on Friday and unavailable for comment – had previously said he and Reynolds wanted to lead by example in voluntarily paying a share of their state-funded health insurance costs. Detractors at the time called it a “political stunt” and a public effort to bully state workers into taking a cut in compensation that violated Iowa’s collective bargaining law.

Danny Homan, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61 -- the state's biggest public employees union – later filed a prohibited practice complaint with the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board, which oversees the state's collective bargaining process. It asked the board to find that health insurance premiums are a mandatory subject of collective bargaining and cannot be changed outside the bargaining process.

The list of enrollees issued by DAS officials on Friday included the names of 17 AFSCME members and three members of smaller state employee unionized bargaining units.

Branstad has touted his action in issuing the executive order as an effort to spend less taxpayer money supporting health coverage by bringing the benefits more in line with the terms of private sector employment, where workers typically pay at least 20 percent of their premiums. If everyone eligible for the new state health insurance plan participated voluntarily, the savings would exceed $100 million, he contended.

Single-plan participants agreeing to pay for 20 percent of their health insurance premium on the least expensive plan would save taxpayers at least $1,000 per year, he said. For Branstad, he said it would amount to an extra $224 monthly cost for his family plan, while Reynolds estimated it would cost her about $153 per month for an annual payment of about $1,700.

Branstad has indicated he plans to ask unionized state employees to pay 20 percent of their health-care costs when negotiations begin in November for a new two-year collective bargaining agreement that would take effect July 1, 2013. 

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