Health care costs are going up for state employees, teachers and retirees, and they’ll feel it in out-of-pocket costs next January.
State employees protested the increases on Wednesday, but the state’s Public Employees Benefits Board formally adopted higher co-payments and deductibles on a 4-3 vote. The three protest votes were from representatives of state worker and retiree groups.
About 336,000 state employees, state retirees, retired teachers and their dependents are affected through health-insurance policies they receive through the state Health Care Authority.
Some workers’ co-pays and deductibles could double — and monthly premiums for the state’s most popular plan, Uniform Medical, go up from $82 to $123 for full family coverage, under the plan approved. Premiums for some plans, including Group Health Classic and Group Health Value, drop but those plans see new or higher deductibles in 2010.
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“This today is an absolute travesty. State workers are taxed even more,” said Greg Devereux, executive director for the 40,000-member Washington Federation of State Employees, who cast one of the votes against the proposal. He blamed lawmakers for providing a fraction of the expected 8.7 percent increase in inflation on premiums.
“They don’t want to tax anybody else but they will tax state workers. To me that is an absolute travesty,’’ Devereux added, later calling it a “crime.’’ “They didn’t have the guts to look at other cuts and they were willing to raise funds in other areas.’’
But Eva Santos, director of the state Department of Personnel, said there weren’t good alternatives for PEBB once the Legislature made its decision, so she voted in favor of the proposal developed by the state Health Care Authority.
“It is a tough place to be and I recognize the ... challenges we are facing. But it is what is in front of us today. It is a legislative decision,” Santos said, adding: “There is no money there to go to.’’
Dave Wasser, spokesman for the Health Care Authority, said the state’s monthly contribution for health care drops slightly in 2010 to $393, down from $395 in 2009. Overall, the state is contributing $745 per month on average per employee in 2010 for health care, dental and life insurance, a figure that grows to $768 per month in 2011, Wasser said.
Several rank-and-file workers, including Joe Nilsson, a long-time Labor and Industries employee, objected that health-care costs are being added to workers at a time their base pay is not going up. Nilsson told the PEB Board that higher out-of-pocket costs would lead to less preventive care and higher costs down the road.
And Pete Kmet, a union shop steward at the Department of Ecology, was among the workers at the two-hour meeting. He complained that premiums will fall for some plans while out-of-pocket costs go up — an effect he said is “upside down.’’
Carol Dotlitch, the federation’s president and employee at Western State Hospital, said workers were giving up $1 billion in pay, lost jobs and potential benefits as a result of the budget cuts driven by a budget shortfall. She called the health-care increases a 7 percent cut in pay.
Steve Hill, administrator of the state Health Care Authority, voted for the plan, which his agency developed, based upon bids received from insurers. Other yea votes were from Margaret Stanley and Yvonne Tate, who represent benefits management and cost containment interests on the board; Tate is with the city of Bellevue’s human resources department.
Others voting against the plan were Lee Ann Prielipp, who represented retired K-12 school workers (in her better-known role she is president of the Washington Education Association), and Robert Porterfield, representing state retirees.
Hill said that under the proposal, state employees continue to pay less than 12 percent of health-insurance premium costs, which is the target set by the Legislature. He estimated the workers’ share is between 11 percent and 12 percent.
Republicans in the Legislature complained that the state’s share was too generous, but they were unable to win concessions from Democrats to make workers pay a higher percent of premiums and to use the savings for other purposes.
State Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, said after the vote that the budget cuts are falling inordinately upon the 22nd Legislative District, which includes Olympia. By contrast, he said, Oregon raised taxes and kept the state contribution to employee health care at 100 percent.
Cassandra de la Rosa, executive director of the 8,000-member Retired Public Employees Council of Washington, said older people have more health problems that require more doctor visits, so the changes will fall “disproportionately” on the shoulders of retirees.
Devereux said he’ll push for changes at the Legislature in any special session that gets called in the fall, or in January when lawmakers return for a 60-day session to write a supplemental budget.