State health plans may get big hike

Benefits: Some workers may pay double in 2010

June 25, 2009 

Some state workers likely will take a serious financial hit next year, when some health-care co-payments and deductibles are expected to double.

The Public Employees Benefits Board is considering the increase to make up for rising costs and flat-lined funding. The most popular offering, the Uniform Medical Plan, will not see the steepest out-of-pocket increases. The share of costs paid by members of that plan will rise from 10 percent to 15 percent, and the out-of-pocket maximum will increase from $3,000 a year for a family to $4,000.

Under the proposed change, the monthly premium for the plan would increase from $82 to $126 a month for a family. The individual premium would rise from $26 to $41 a month.

The benefits board is expected to approve the proposals next month. It oversees public employee health plans that cover 49,000 people in Thurston County and 30,500 in Pierce County.

Overall, the average share of premiums paid by public workers will remain 12 percent. That figure is established in contracts with unionized employees.

However, the Legislature did not provide enough funding to make up for increasing medical costs over the next two years, prompting the shortfall.

The Group Health Classic plan, which has no deductible, would have a $250 deductible for people next year under the proposed changes. The office visit co-pay under the plan will increase from $10 to $25.

The high-deductible, low-premium Kaiser Value Plan, meanwhile, will increase co-pays depending on the service provided, raise its out-of-pocket limit for people from $1,500 to $2,000, and increase the share of X-ray services paid by members to 25 percent from 10 percent.

“The benefit changes outlined here are not unexpected. They are pressing. There are going to be far-reaching impacts on state employees,” said Greg Devereux, a member of the benefits board and the executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees.

He noted that state employees face budget cuts and layoffs in agencies, and the union had to give up raises it negotiated less than a year ago.

“We need to pay attention to what we are doing to the work force,” he said. “There has always been, with the state, a trade-off between wages and benefits, and now we are trading both.”

Adam Wilson: 360-753-1688

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