By The Mason City Globe Gazette
It’s a nice perk if you can get it. And Gov. Terry Branstad doesn’t think Iowa legislators should get it much longer.
We’re talking full coverage of state health insurance premiums, which lawmakers now receive.
But the governor would like them to pay 20 percent of their premiums, just as he and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds started doing voluntarily last summer, and we think that would be a nice gesture to taxpayers.
Having state workers chip in on their health insurance premiums has become a point of contention with Branstad. He reiterated it again recently.
“We think it makes sense for the Legislature and others to do the same thing,” Branstad said of those paying part of their premiums. “I think it’s time they lead instead of follow.”
Cynics among us might argue there’s been darn little leadership out of lawmakers. But we won’t go that far. Plenty of work gets done under the golden dome; it just seems like major issues such as property tax relief, the gas tax increase and a few others always seem to stall and thus get the headlines.
We actually think we get a decent bang for our tax buck out of Des Moines. Now, we’d like to see some of those lawmakers’ bucks going to something many private-sector Iowans must contend with — health insurance premiums that grow every year.
Some may see a drawback in taking away this benefit. Maybe some highly qualified candidates wouldn’t want to run, for example.
We can’t imagine that stopping legislators we’re familiar with. They aren’t doing it to get rich (they are paid $25,000 annually with leadership posts paying more) but rather are sincerely interested in serving their constituents. Some would even call it being driven to serve.
Yet, reaction to Branstad’s call is mixed.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said he would support legislative branch officials and employees paying 20 percent of their health insurance premiums, saying “contributing to our health care is the right thing to do.” He noted House Republicans have supported the concept in the past and said the matter may be taken up by the Legislative Council between sessions of the Legislature.
On the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he doubted the Senate would consider the idea.
“We have always treated ourselves consistently with how we treated other state employees,” he said.
That’s regrettable, and we almost might think there’s some partisanship at work.
But whatever. We think it’s time for lawmakers to take a giant step forward into reality where, according to Branstad, Iowa is one of just six states not requiring all state workers to pay a share of their health insurance premiums. Federal employees, he noted, pay 25 percent and, of course, most private-sector workers share the costs with their employers.
The governor doesn’t believe Iowa will long be able to hold on to the “1970s-style plan where the employer pays everything.”
And we have to believe that he’s right in saying the public sides with him on this issue.
No offense to legislators. We just believe it’s fair for them to help cover the cost of their insurance, just like most other Iowans are doing. The next session would be a good time to start.