Wednesday, December 30, 2009

MI legislators urge public employees to contribute more for healthcare

Michigan lawmakers push for public employees to contribute more for health insurance costs
By Monica Scott
The Grand Rapids Press
December 30, 2009
(Click images to enlarge.)
West Michigan lawmakers say it is time for public employees to pay more for health care.GRAND RAPIDS -- Local lawmakers, eager to adopt reforms before the 2010 election season heats up, are pushing for changes that would have public employees chip in more for their health insurance.
They would mandate public employees contribute 15 or 20 percent toward the cost of their benefits, which they see as a key item to help schools and local governments reeling from state budget cuts.
State Sen. Mark Jansen (photo), R-Gaines Township, introduced legislation that would limit the portion public employers pay to no more than 80 percent of the premium cost or 85 percent if the benefits include wellness incentives and a health savings account.
The measure would also cover elected officials.
"I believe we have to do this given the times we live in," Jansen said.
"These reform measures will help all public employers, like local governments and schools, manage skyrocketing costs of health care benefits and any savings will stay with the public employers."
Jansen said the Senate Fiscal Agency has not completed a cost analysis on the measure yet.
"Lawmakers should deal with the root of the problem --the state's outdated tax structure and funding system," said Doug Pratt, spokesman for the Michigan Education Association that represents teachers.
Pratt said Jansen's legislation and a similar measure in the House does not take into account the $700 million in concessions, such as higher co-payments and deductibles, employees have already made in recent years.
The legislation would apply to those groups as their contracts expire.
Earlier this month, Reps. David Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, and David Agema, R-Grandville, introduced legislation mandating at least a 15 percent contribution but it does not include the incentives in Jansen's measure.
Local city and school leaders, including Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, expressed support at that time for a mandate, but Grand Rapids' largest union objected.
"The health care reform proposals are definitely something we should be looking at as a cost-saving measure," said Rep. Roy Schmidt, D-Grand Rapids. "We want to get some important reforms, like the tax structure and health care, accomplished before the war of politics and things get bogged down."
Jansen is also co-sponsoring a bill introduced by Sen. Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond Township, that would allow local governments to offer employees the same insurance benefits available to state employees.
From John Curry, December 30, 2009
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