DES MOINES – Monday’s announcement by Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds that they voluntarily would begin paying 20 percent of their state-funded health insurance premiums beginning Aug. 1 drew mixed reviews.
Branstad signed an executive order Monday to establish a new insurance plan for state officials and employees that would allow anyone receiving a state pay check to voluntarily pay 20 percent of their insurance premium for the rest of the calendar year. The open enrollment period for the new plan – approved by the Iowa Executive Council on a 4-0 vote -- runs through July 19 for any state employee who volunteers to begin paying 20 percent of their health-care costs Aug. 1.
“We’re asking for people to do the right thing,” said Branstad, who noted that taxpayers currently pick up the tab for the roughly 88 percent of state workers who the Iowa Department of Administrative Services says do not contribute anything toward their health insurance premium. In total, Iowa taxpayers fund 97 cents of every one dollar spent on health care premiums, according to the governor’s office.
Branstad also called upon all statewide elected officials, state department directors and state employees to follow his lead in volunteering to pay a share of health-care costs. If everyone eligible for the new state health insurance plan participated voluntarily, the savings would exceed $100 million, Branstad told reporters at his weekly news conference, but he doubted that would happen.
Single-plan participants agreeing to pay for 20 percent of their health insurance premium on the least expensive plan would save taxpayers at least $1,000 per year, he said. For Branstad, he said it would amount to an extra $224 monthly cost for his family plan, while Reynolds estimated it would cost her about $153 per month for an annual payment of about $1,700.
State Auditor David Vaudt and Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said they planned to follow Branstad’s lead, as did Senate GOP Leader Jerry Behn of Boone who urged other legislative leaders to do the same.
However, Sen. Eugene Fraise, D-Fort Madison, who is retiring this year and not seeking re-election in November, said he viewed Branstad’s move as demanding a pay cut on top of sacrifices state employees have already made.
“I suppose it made some sense to the Governor when he made this outrageous request, especially considering his own $130,000 salary, $50,000 state pension, free housing and transportation, and a state-funded personal chef,” Fraise said in a statement. “But the governor is ignoring the sacrifices that correctional officers, social workers, home health care and child care providers, mental health workers, and many other state workers have made during the national recession."
Danny Homan, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61 – the largest state employees’ union, said the GOP governor needs to stop playing politics and bullying public employees.
“Health care is something our members take seriously. Many of our members work in environments where their personal safety is on the line: correctional workers can be injured or infected by inmate attacks and DOT workers can be hit by reckless drivers,” Homan said in a statement.