Insurance rates will drop for some state workers

Some plans' costs are increasing but not significantly, board says



Olympia — State employees could get a dose of good news soon, according to a recent briefing on 2014 health insurance premiums by the Public Employees Benefits Board.

A few plans show monthly rates going up, but not significantly. Other plans’ rates are headed downward.

The premium news comes as temporary 3 percent cuts in pay and hours worked came to an end on July 1 after two years of reductions for most general-government state employees.

“We’re glad to see there are only slight increases and some decreases in premium rates, which is good news for state employees who are just now getting back their 3 percent pay cut and have paid increases in health insurance during the recession,” said Tim Welch, spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents roughly 40,000 workers in state agencies and higher education. “So slowly but surely state employees are recovering as well.”

Welch said dental, life and long-term disability plans will have no new costs for employees.

Among the rate changes for health insurance is a $2 increase to $79 per month for a single employee to receive the popular Uniform Medical Plan.

Similarly, premiums rise by $2 per month to $117 for a single employee enrolled in the Group Health Classic plan. But rates drop by $1 to $65 for Group Health Value and by $15 to $21 per month for Group Health’s health-savings-account option, known as a consumer-driven health plan.

Rates are similarly restrained for family coverage — rising $5 to $227 for Uniform Medical and rising $6 to $332 for Group Health Classic. Premiums would fall $3 to $189 for Group Health Value.

But full-family coverage jumps to $329 from $280 for Kaiser Classic’s family coverage.

The Public Employees Benefits Board, which is made up of representatives of personnel offices, unions and retirees, is scheduled to adopt the new rate schedule Wednesday.

Retirees’ premiums also are on the rise for those not on Medicare — by $5 per month to $551 for a single retiree enrolled in UMP and by $4 for a single enrollee in Group Health Classic. Family coverage rises $14 per month to $1,504 in UMP and by $12 to $1,609 on Group Health Classic.

Under terms of the budget approved by the Legislature in late June, insurance premiums will carry a $25 per month surcharge if the employee or family members use tobacco products. There will also be a $50 monthly surcharge to cover a spouse or domestic partner if the spouse has similar coverage options available from another employer.

The state is working on how to figure out who is a tobacco user and how to show whether a spouse has coverage worth 95 percent of the actuarial value of a state-offered plan. The Health Care Authority, which oversees PEBB, has indicated it could rely on an employee’s attestation that he or she and family members do not use tobacco products.

The premium scenario outlined to PEBB assumes that state employees are paying on average 15 percent of the cost of premiums. That was the agreement in the labor contracts approved in 2011 for the two-year budget cycle that ended June 30.

Because former Gov. Chris Gregoire was unable to reach agreement with more than two dozen unions on health care, that piece is undecided for the new biennium. Under state collective bargaining rules, this means terms of the 2011-13 agreements will continue for one year — in this case for calendar year 2014.

Spokesmen for Gov. Jay Inslee have said his Labor Relations Office expects to pick up talks with a coalition of unions before long.

Greg Devereux, executive director for the federation and a voting member of PEBB, said he understands the labor negotiators are looking at dates for negotiations and will be getting back to the unions’ bargaining coalition “as soon as possible” in order to get an agreement that can be funded by lawmakers in 2014.

Those negotiations would cover terms of coverage and each party’s share of premiums for calendar year 2015.