State Workers

State worker insurance funding trimmed

Funding for state employee health insurance was reduced yet again in the budget proposal released Friday by majority Democrats.

The change means workers will be more exposed to cost increases in health care. The bill specifies some ways to make up the difference, including higher co-payments paid by workers.

The latest budget would set aside $745 per employee, per month, for the next year to cover health insurance costs. That’s $3 less than the lowest figure Democrats previously had considered. In 2011, the figure would be $768 per worker.

Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested spending $29 more per employee in 2010 and $63 more in 2011. Her proposal was supposed to cover increases in health care costs, limiting an employee’s share of insurance premiums to 12 percent.

“We were anticipating an 8 percent (cost increase) trend, and the Legislature essentially cut that in half,” said Dave Wasser of the Health Care Authority, which oversees public employee health plans.

Exactly how higher co-pays or other changes would be made to insurance plans is under review, Wasser said.

The budget released Friday morning is not expected to change significantly before lawmakers’ planned departure Sunday. It says union and nonunion employees will pay the same amount in insurance premiums.

State employee unions are operating under a contract saying they will pay an average of 12 percent of total monthly costs. But the governor shelved new union contracts, and the proposed budgets do not include any cost-of-living pay increases for state employees.

Unionized state workers might have to return to the bargaining table to negotiate over the reduced health insurance funding.

Other items in the proposed final budget include:

 • About 7,000 layoffs combined for state employees, public school teachers and state college workers. The figure is an estimate, as each agency will have leeway to deal with reductions.

 • Budget language encouraging unpaid time off and reduced work hours before layoffs.

 • $449 million in delayed payments to public employee pensions.

 • Elimination of a requirement that agencies reduce middle-management ranks by 8 percent.

 • “Administrative cuts” of $250 million statewide. The governor’s office has warned that steep cuts to administration likely would mean cuts to public services as well.

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