State employees are paying their share of health care
Washington's state employees already are shouldering their share of the burden as state officials solve the state's budget crisis, writes guest columnist Diane Sosne.
Special to The Times
SCOTT Canaday may have to choose between the radiation-therapy treatments he needs and paying his mortgage. If his health-care costs keep increasing, "I will pay my mortgage and have to skip treatment," he says.
Like so many of us, Scott is having to make difficult choices because his health-care costs keep rising.
Does Scott work for a struggling small business? A local retail outlet? A manufacturing company? No — Scott is a state employee, one of 110,000 public servants who go to work every day to provide us with health care, teach our kids, fix our roads and bridges, maintain our parks and keep our communities safe.
Sunday's Times article, "How state workers' pay really stacks up" shows that state employee wages aren't out of line compared with the rest of the job market. But the article left unchallenged the assertion that Scott and his colleagues have "a Cadillac health-insurance benefit."
Every month, Scott and his colleagues pay on average 12 percent of the premium cost of their health benefit. If he worked at another major Washington employer, like Boeing, Microsoft or Swedish Medical Center, he would pay no premium. If he worked at Safeway or Fred Meyer, he would pay 4.5 percent.
Every time Scott and his colleagues go to see a doctor, they pay 15 percent of the cost — up 50 percent over last year. For state employees in the Group Health plan, every doctor's visit costs $30. Employee prescription costs have doubled in the last year. Emergency-room costs for employees have gone up 50 percent. Deductibles went up. Out-of-pocket maximums went up.
This past year, state employees accepted $117 million in additional out-of-pocket charges on their medical plan, according to the state's Health Care Authority. That works out to nearly $1,100 per year for every active state employee. This sacrifice is on top of wage freezes for most state employees, more than 2,500 layoffs in the last year, and the coming prospect of furloughs and more layoffs in 2010.
We recognize times are tough for all working families in our state; what's less recognized is the sacrifices our state employees have made, and will continue to make, as stakeholders in solving the state's financial woes. State employees shouldn't shoulder an unfair burden in solving our state's budget problem.
Like so many state employees, Scott has special skills and training, and he could make more money in the private sector.
We're lucky Scott has chosen to stay in state service. He's an angio technologist at Harborview Medical Center, our premier regional emergency and trauma center. Scott takes angiograms of brain aneurysms and detects major problems before they kill. He saves your friends, your family members, maybe even you.
So the next time we think about cuts to state employee compensation, think about Scott and all the other state employees who serve the public with dedication and sacrifice every day.
Diane Sosne, MN, RN, is president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, a union representing 22,000 health-care workers statewide, including 2,000 state employees.
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