State Workers

Details of 'wellness plan' still to be worked out as Gov. Inslee, employee unions strike tentative deal on health benefits for 2015

OlympianOctober 1, 2013 

Greg Devereux

OLYMPIAN FILE PHOTO

Negotiators for more than two-dozen public-sector labor unions and Gov. Jay Inslee struck an agreement late Tuesday afternoon that largely maintains the benefits and worker costs of health care in 2015 that already are in effect today.  Both parties say details remain to be worked out by labor and management on a wellness plan that is supposed to steer workers toward more healthful activities and lower costs.

“Essentially we kept the status quo,” said Greg Devereux, executive director for the roughly 40,000-member Washington Federation of State Employees, which served as the lead union in the talks that began about two weeks ago. At issue are health benefits for about 60,000 general government and classified college employees in the second year of a two-year labor agreement covering 2013-15.

Devereux said co-pay and coinsurance costs remain about the same in the state’s most popular employee option, the state-run Uniform Medical Plan. And the state will continue to pay about 85 percent of insurance premiums, while workers pay 15 percent.

As we reported here and here, Inslee had wanted to bring elements of a wellness plan into any agreement on health benefits.

Inslee’s Office of Financial Management confirmed a deal was reached but few details were immediately available. Devereux said he expects rank-and-file members of the coalition’s two-dozen unions would ratify the agreement over the next three to four weeks.

Both sides were racing to finish an agreement by the close of the day so that Inslee’s budget office could include any cost of the deal in his supplemental budget request to the Legislature in 2014. Without an agreement, workers were at risk of having lawmakers and the administration impose terms of health care for calendar year 2015.

No details on cost are yet available. 

By including a wellness plan, the agreement helps Inslee fulfill a goal he talked about as a candidate last year. He had argued that wellness programs can improve the well being of workers but also lower the taxpayer cost of healthcare.

“We committed that between now and December we will develop and implement wellness proposals that will bend the cost curve,” Devereux said. “So in our view it really answers what the governor said in the campaign, and it answers the Senate Republicans who were trying to jam (through) a wellness program legislatively last session. And if we don’t come up with something by December, we’ll see what happens after that. But I think the coalition of unions is committed to working with the governor.”

Devereux said it is too early to say what a wellness plan could look like. But a key for the unions was that they be given a voice in designing it. Devereux said there are ideas used by other jurisdictions such as requiring patients to have primary physicians, which is not required at the present time.

Stay tuned. 

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