Politics & Government

PEBB ready to set health premium rates that don’t climb a lot for state workers in 2015

Most but not all state employees can expect to pay a little more for health insurance in 2015, and a government board is poised to lock in the rates this week.

The Washington Health Care Authority is proposing small premium increases for the state’s most popular plan, Uniform Medical Plan, which caters to 60 percent of state employees and an even larger share of government retirees in the state system. UMP rates will be $84 in January, up $5 per month for single subscribers, and $357 for a full family, up $28.

Subscribers to Group Health Classic, the third-most-popular plan that serves nearly one in eight state workers, will get a rate cut. Rates fall by $11 per month to $106 for single subscribers and they drop $30 per month to $302 for full family coverage.

The Public Employees Benefits Board, known as PEBB, is scheduled to vote on the rates proposal in a meeting that was postponed from last week to let Health Care Authority staff fine-tune the benefits package.

“The 2015 premiums shouldn’t look significantly different from what was presented at the July 16th PEB Board meeting,” said Michelle George, spokeswoman.

The rates are based upon the assumption that state employees pay 15 percent of premium costs and the state picks up 85 percent.

One small change that could be to the benefit of some employees is a new $2,000 out-of-pocket maximum for pharmacy costs in the Uniform Medical Plan. It affects less than one in a hundred subscribers and would add about 75 cents in premiums per adult subscriber per month. UMP subscribers who are eligible for Medicare also would see a new out of pocket maximum and higher premium of $2.44 per adult each month.

The PEBB action comes just as a coalition of more than two dozen labor unions are about to start meetings with negotiators for Gov. Jay Inslee where they’ll negotiate health care benefits in the next two-year contract period, which runs from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2017.

Washington Federation of State Employees spokesman Tim Welch said the coalition talks start Aug. 5.

WFSE is the largest union representing state workers, and its general-government agency negotiators started meeting with Inslee’s team a couple of months ago on non-compensation issues, although the focus may shift when those talks with Inslee’s labor team resume Aug. 6-7. Discussions about compensation may begin at that session, and some unions are looking at sizable increases after a six-year run without cost of living increases – especially as the pay gap has grown between public and private workers in some categories.

Teachers and other public school employees are in the same boat, going six years without a COLA despite an initiative on the books requiring one. Lawmakers have suspended the initiative as part of budget-cutting exercises to avoid tax increases.

Inslee has said he favors giving cost of living adjustments this year. The Democrat is an advocate of wellness programs, but he has not proposed a change in the share of health premiums borne by workers or the state.