BENEFIT BATTLE: Gov. Calls for Benefit Change

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In July, Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds opted to begin paying for 20-percent of their health care costs, and now they want state workers to do the same. The governor says a study requested by his administration is a reason why.

The study compared benefits offered by 13 states along with those offered by 14 private companies. It found that benefits for Iowa employees were on average $116 million higher.

Union representatives say the study is misleading, and that there's a reason benefits are higher:

"Time and time again, AFSCME members have chosen to accept lower wages at the bargaining table in order to preserve health benefits," AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan said in a statement.

Dr. Alen Zagoren is a professor of public administration at Drake University, and says that the majority of industries in the state require employees to pay part of their premiums.

"If it's provided totally free you could argue that potentially is a problem when we get to lifestyle choice things like that, so I certainly wouldn`t argue with the governor in asking employees to be part of the answer, part of the buy in, and be part of what ultimately would be a benefit to everybody,” said Dr. Zagoren.

As a professor and a surgeon, Dr. Alen Zagoren sees both sides of the coin, and said, “Anytime anybody is asked to pay more money for something, as a provider, the first thing you worry about is then will they not access the system because they are concerned.”

Dr. Zagoren explained that more changes to the health care system as a whole are coming, but, “Our health care system fortunately is in many ways one of the best in the country. And I don`t just say that as a physician,” said Zagoren. “Majority of our patients are covered by some type of insurance product, therefore, the amount of uninsured and the prevision to those uninsured and its impact on our healthcare system while significant is not as great as it would be in other states with larger unemployment, less employed people.”

The state will begin preliminary negotiations with state workers later this year. The contract for AFSCME members expires in June.

The governor`s office has also requested a study focusing on salaries in Iowa and surrounding states.  The results are expected later this fall.