By Quad-City Times
In a 1,038-word section of their collective bargaining contract, Iowa’s organized AFSCME workers and the governor agreed to specific benefits and costs for the health care portion of compensation.
The state police contract covers the health benefits in 249 words. Health benefits for UE Local 893/Iowa United Professionals representing social workers are described in 765 words.
AFSCME workers must provide a $50 co-pay for emergency room visits. Organized state police officers pay $100 for the same trip.
The list of differences goes on and on in contracts negotiated separately among the state organized employee groups.
Into this complex scenario stumbles a $125,000 study authorized by the governor that concludes “the state must move the employee premium cost share to at least 20 percent employee paid, which is typical in the marketplace for health plans.”
Do that, says the consultant, and taxpayers will save $53 million annually.
Who could be against savings?
The consultant and governor know that health benefits aren’t negotiated in a vacuum. Increasing employee costs will affect other wage and benefit negotiations. So it’s preposterous to imply any specific savings on a negotiated benefit.
Employees’ premium concessions are about half of $116 million in savings identified by the consultant, mostly from wellness and fitness incentives becoming common in all workplace plans, which is terrific. Health plans are evolving everywhere to emphasize fitness over treatment, thanks, in part, to the Affordable Care Act’s focus on cost control.
But the state of Iowa’s consultant report goes beyond trends and suggests a specific compensation change that can only be interpreted as the state’s first volley in negotiations.
Problem is, the state agreed to contracts effective through June 30, 2013. Gov. Terry Branstad already tried to disrupt the contract in July when he signed an order encouraging employees to voluntarily increase their premium payments outside of the contract.
We share the governor’s enthusiasm for savings, wellness and fitness. But we worry when either side in a public employment contract launch negotiations without the other side.
We were among Iowans livid when former lame duck governor Chet Culver rolled over and approved bargaining agreements with zero negotiations.
Branstad overreacts in the opposite direction by launching negotiations without actually engaging state workers. Worse, he expended $125,000 for the privilege.