State, unions reach health care deal that includes wellness

bshannon@theolympian.comOctober 2, 2013 

Negotiators for more than two dozen public-sector labor unions and Gov. Jay Inslee struck an agreement late Tuesday that largely maintains current benefits and worker share of health care costs.

Both parties say details remain to be worked out on a wellness plan that would steer workers toward more healthful activities and lower costs.

“Essentially we kept the status quo,” said Greg Devereux, executive director for the Washington Federation of State Employees, which served as the lead union in the talks that began about two weeks ago.

At issue are workers’ health benefits for 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 plan, Uniform Medical. And the state will continue to pay about 85 percent of insurance premiums, while workers pay 15 percent.

Inslee’s Office of Financial Management confirmed that 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. Without an agreement, workers were at risk of having lawmakers and the administration impose terms of health care for calendar year 2015.

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 health care.

“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.”

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.

“And if we don’t come up with something by December, we’ll see what happens after that,” he said. “But I think the coalition of unions is committed to working with the governor.”

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688

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