A missed opportunity to join this century

There has been an ongoing debate in recent years about the appropriate percentage that state employees should contribute to their health care coverage provided by the state. I believe – as do many of our small business owners and newspaper editorial boards across the state – that state employees who choose to keep their traditional PPO health plan should contribute a percentage comparable to what private sector employees pay. After all, public servants do work for the taxpayers.

A contribution level that is comparable to levels in the private sector, like the 25% former Gov. Christine Gregoire wanted, would give state employees greater incentive to join one of the state’s already-available Consumer-Directed Health Plans with tax-advantaged Health Savings Accounts. These plans are a win-win for employees and state government. For employees, premiums are lower and they permanently own their Health Savings Account, which is credited with a state contribution of $700 a year for individuals and $1,400 for families. For the state and taxpayers, employees use less health care and the cost of coverage goes down. Indiana under former Gov. Mitch Daniels had great success switching to this model.

Unfortunately, Gov. Inslee’s administration negotiated with state employee unions to keep employee contributions at the same 15% level they negotiated with Gregoire in 2011, leaving taxpayers on the hook for too high of a share. As the head of the largest state employee union put it, “Essentially we kept the status quo.”

This is a missed opportunity. At a time when state government should be actively seeking savings that could be better utilized to fully fund K-12 schools (as the Supreme Court has ruled the state must), negotiating more realistic employee health contributions would make a real difference.

The wellness program that the administration and unions will negotiate later has the potential to lower state health care costs (and during my time as Attorney General, ours was the largest state agency to implement a state-approved wellness program), but a 15% employee contribution rate does seem, as the Spokesman Review put it earlier this week, “stuck in a time warp.”

— Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.