Iowa lawmakers lose cheap health insurance but avoid large cost hikes
A Des Moines Register investigation found that some Iowa legislators are paying as much as $300 a month less than what they should be paying for health insurance since they are receiving union rates.
Iowa lawmakers’ cheap insurance premiums are gone, but most have avoided full-scale increases that would have cost them up to $184 more each month, a Des Moines Register review shows.
The lawmakers escaped the steeper premium increases because the state is offering fewer health-plan options to state employees.
The state health plans were narrowed after lawmakers last year limited the powers of union employees to negotiate, including on issues involving their health care.
Gone this year are options set in place by Gov. Terry Branstad that had required many non-union workers to pay 20 percent of their premiums.
Collectively, the savings to lawmakers is almost $17,000 per month, a Register review shows.
The Iowa Department of Administrative Services — the state human resources department that manages most state employee benefits — said it does not track the extra costs or savings associated with the elimination of the 20-percent plans.
For the 128 Iowa legislators who have accepted state employee health insurance benefits in the 2018 calendar year, the elimination of those plans means they avoided extra costs to their premiums that would have averaged $132 a month.
“I know mine went up, but I guess I hadn’t reviewed to see how the options were specifically put into place,” Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said.
Petersen now pays $150 a month for a family health insurance plan compared with the $20 a month she paid last year for a family plan. Her plan would have cost her $334 a month if the 2017 options had remained in place, according to the Register’s review.
Senate President Jack Whitver of Ankeny — the top GOP leader in Senate — has the same changes and cost differentials this year as Petersen. Whitver did not respond for comment.
The $20 controversy
Lawmakers weathered heavy criticism last year when the Register reported that they were paying as little as $20 a month for health coverage.
A nearly 35-year-old law that helped govern the state’s executive branch said lawmakers were eligible for insurance plans made available under group plans to non-union employees.
But that decades-old law wasn’t being followed.
Most lawmakers last year were saving money — some more than $300 a month — because they had piggybacked onto health-insurance plans offered across virtually all groups of state employees in multiple branches of government.
There were some exceptions, including nine lawmakers — eight Republicans and one Democrat — who voluntarily reimbursed the state for some or most of the undeserved savings, records show.
“I felt the public sector folks should be acting more like the private sector,” Baltimore said last year of his voluntary health-premium contributions, adding that he came from a job “where I paid a portion of my healthcare premiums, and I just think it’s the appropriate thing to do.”
Lawmakers approve a fix
Last year, after some grumbling, lawmakers unanimously passed a law that mandates that they are eligible for only the nonunion insurance plans offered to executive branch employees.
Now, however, almost all executive branch employees pay the same premiums, regardless of whether they are contract or non-contract employees.
The monthly premiums for lawmakers is now $40 to $273 a month, the records show.
Cumulatively, lawmakers are paying $7,106 more each month in health insurance premiums.
But they would be paying $16,905 more a month if the plans requiring them to pay 20 percent remained intact, the Register’s review shows.
Gov. Kim Reynolds this year pays $40 a month for a single health insurance policy, a $9 out-of-pocket increase from her rate last year.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, was among the lawmakers who were paying at or near the most in 2017, a monthly healthcare premium of $333.
Dix in 2018 retained a family health insurance plan but pays $60 a month less because of the choice differentials this year.
“Collective bargaining reform allowed public employers to align benefits more closely with benefits in the private sector,” Dix said. “It is appropriate that legislators pay the same health insurance premiums as other state employees.”