Politics & Government

Agreement reached that keeps state worker share of health premium at 15 percent

State employees represented by a coalition of more than two-dozen unions have reached a contract agreement for the next two years that makes no major changes in workers’ share of health premiums.

The Washington Federation of State Employees, which played a lead role in the coalition of unions’ negotiations, announced Tuesday that the agreement was reached late Monday.

Under it, employees will continue paying 15 percent of health insurance premiums, and co-payments and deductibles won’t change in the Uniform Medical Plan "for the purpose of shifting costs onto state employees," the federation said. UMP is the most popular plan available to workers. Employee premiums for that plan this year ranged from $79 a month for an individual policy and $227 for full family coverage.

“So we virtually preserved the status quo in health care,” union spokesman Tim Welch wrote in an email to union members, calling it a major victory.

The governor’s Office of Financial Management confirmed that an agreement was reached and that it will cost the state’s general fund about $112 million in the next two-year budget. OFM’s spokesman said the agency would have no further comment about contract details.

The federation said the agreement does give the state a free hand to make narrow changes such as steering workers toward less costly health services by imposing a higher co-pay for unnecessary use of emergency room care. Another change allowed would be to answer mandates under federal health care reform.

The tentative agreement, which covers an estimated 117,000 workers in general government and higher education, now must be ratified by workers. The federation has set a deadline of 5 p.m. Sept. 30 to ensure that costs are included in Gov. Jay Inslee’s biennial budget request to the Legislature in January.

The federation is the largest state-employee union to secure a wage agreement for 2015-17, and online ratification voting is getting under way on that contract. It includes general wage increases of 3 percent in July and at least 1.8 percent in July 2016. There is an additional one-time raise of at least 2.5 percent to about 4,500 workers in select positions whose pay has lagged peers.