By The Gazette Editorial Board
We agree with Gov. Terry Branstad that it’s reasonable to expect state employees to pay something toward their health insurance coverage.
His and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds’ pledge to voluntarily pay 20 percent of their state-funded health insurance premiums are evidence the state leaders are willing to make the same sacrifices they’re calling for other government workers to make. It lends credibility to their position.
But the timing and manner of whhich Branstad chose for his call for other state workers to make similar voluntary contributions to their health care costs seems more like political pressure than anything else.
Branstad’s minusculengs at the bargaining table, not a news conference. His focus should be on reaching middle ground with union leaders on this important issue during contract negotiations this fall.
On Monday, Branstad signed an executive order that establishes a new voluntary insurance plan for state workers — one in which they would pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums beginning on Aug. 1 and lasting through the rest of the calendar year.
He and Reynolds announced they both would sign on to the voluntary program, and called on statewide elected officials, state department directors and state employees to do the same.
Already, some prominent elected officials — including State Auditor David Vaudt, Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey and state Senate GOP Leader Jerry Behn of Boone — have said they’ll join the two in paying portions of their own insurance premiums. Other state employees have until July 19 to enroll.
The vast majority of state workers don’t contribute any money toward their health insurance premiums. Instead, taxpayers foot much of the bill.
“We’re asking for people to do the right thing,” Branstad told reporters at his weekly news conference, estimating that if every eligible state employee participated, it would save the state more than $100 million.
That’s significant savings, well worth considering when state workers’ contracts are renegotiated. We agree that it’s not unreasonable to expect most — if not all — state employees to contribute some portion of the cost of their health insurance, as most private-sector workers do. But any changes are best considered as part of a total compensation package, not simply issued as a public challenge for employees to make a “voluntary” sacrifice.
Branstad is well positioned to kick in $224 each month to help pay for his family’s insurance plan. Employees at lower levels of pay might not find it quite so easy to adjust their own family budgets on such short notice.
Nor should they have to.That’s what the bargaining table is for.
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