Panel votes to increase state employees’ health premiums

DOVER — The committee in charge of state employee health care voted Friday to increase premiums for government employees. Under the change, first proposed by Gov. Jack Markell in his January budget recommendations, employees will pay about 7 percent more for their health care. Per month, that comes out to between $1.98 and $19.48 in added cost, depending on the plan.

The vote, which comes after a push to raise premiums last year failed due to objections, goes into effect July 1.

Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware and the only union representative on the State Employees Benefit Committee, was the lone vote against the premium increase.

While state employees have never been paid a tremendous amount, the benefits have been good, he said, but now, Delaware is “tipping the scales.”

Some lawmakers also have expressed unease over the higher premium costs, fearing they would wipe out a suggested pay raise.

“On one hand we provide a salary increase and on the other we take it away by the increase that we are projected to put onto the state employees,” Rep. Joseph Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, said during a Joint Finance Committee meeting last month. “So the net gain is pretty much nothing.”

The vast majority of employees do figure to come out ahead, though: Most plans will cost about an additional $100 or less per year, meaning the 1 percent pay raise should cover the increase.

Friday also saw the State Employee Benefits Committee choose to cut coverage of 14 medications used to treat issues like heartburn, dry skin and vertigo. They all have over-the-counter equivalents.

Health care largely remains cheaper for sate workers than in the private sector, state officials say, noting that Delaware covers upward of 93 percent of costs on four of five plans.

Proposals from the governor to give workers a pay raise and create a mandatory new Health Savings Account for future workers are in the hands of the Legislature.

Last month, the General Assembly’s budget panel agreed to allocate $33.3 million from the state budget to be used to cover basic health care costs. The premium change agreed upon by the State Employee Benefits Committee Friday will help the state replenish its depleted reserve fund.

The benefits committee also eliminated copays for X-rays and CT scans at freestanding facilities and lowered them for urgent care centers. The goal is to encourage workers to make fewer hospital visits, which will save money for the state.

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