Paying their fair share

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm

Group demands state workers contribute toward health care premiums

A group of Waukesha Area Chamber of Commerce members demanded that state employees, who pay little, if anything toward their health-care coverage, start paying their fair share of costs for health-care premiums and deductibles.
"We have to stem the tide somewhere," Jim Kurtz, owner of Waukesha-based Screen Specialists, said referring to the $1.1 billion deficit in the state budget. "I really believe that people should be more responsible for their health-care costs. People become more aware of what the costs are when it comes out of their own pocket. … I’m not saying these people are gouging (the system), but if you take thousands of people going frequently (to their doctors) because they’re paying next to nothing or nothing at all, that mounts up Big Time."
Kurtz was one of a dozen Waukesha Chamber members meeting with State Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-83th district) during Gunderson’s legislative update. Gunderson, who also owns a sporting goods store, agrees that steps need to be taken to bring state workers more in line with those in the private sector.
Gunderson said that it was imperative that state employees have co-payments for health insurance and that people would think twice before going to the doctor for every ailment if part of the cost came out of their own pockets. Seven out of 10 state employees currently pay nothing for health insurance, according to the state Department of Employment Relations. Health insurance for state employees costs around $512 million a year.
Gunderson also said that during former governor Tony Earl’s administration, benefit packages were increased to keep or attract workers because salary levels were below salaries in the private sector. That is no longer the case for many state employees.
"I can’t believe some of the salaries we pay these people for what they do," Gunderson said.
Part of the problem the legislature faces in its attempt to trim the deficit, however, is that many of employee benefits are negotiated with unions, and the contracts cover multiple years. So even if state employees are required to contribute a portion of their health-care costs, the impact would not be widespread until co-payments are negotiated into all of the unionized workers’ contracts over a period of years.
Kurtz, whose health-care costs went up 35% from the previous year, also worries about proposed government mandates that would require mental health, drug and alcohol coverage for employees.
"How long can we go like that in small- and medium-sized businesses before we’re just going to say to heck with it all," Kurtz said. "We’re going to try to provide if we can, but either you stay in business and ask your employees to pay more, or you just provide a plan and let everybody pay as much as they can or nothing at all. And that’s not good either."
Kurtz made his comments a few days after the Gunderson meeting, but that same sentiment was expressed at the meeting by Ed Carlin, the sales and marketing manager at Schaefer Brush Manufacturing Co. in Waukesha. Carlin, recalled his days in South Dakota where the legislature there isn’t paid – except for a small per diem – and the budget is worked out in less than two months. Then Carlin pointed out that Wisconsin is in the third highest-taxed state in the U.S. [South Dakota has no state income tax, but it does have sales, property and various excise taxes.]
"If things don’t change (in Wisconsin), the system will implode," Carlin told Gunderson. "I will move my company out of this flippin’ state."

March 15, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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