Editorial: Time to pay part of the tab

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Forget Obamacare. The most pressing health-care issue in North Carolina at the moment is whether state employees should help pay premiums for their individual health insurance. Republican lawmakers say yes and have passed bills to that effect through the House and Senate.
The Democrat in the Governorís Mansion should sign the bill into law. The time has come.
How else can the state close a $515 million shortfall in the State Health Plan? The burden is not onerous ó employees will have to pay $10.86 or $21.72 per month, depending on their level of coverage ó but it ends a long tradition of providing individual coverage at no charge to state employees, and there will be no going back. In addition, co-payments and deductibles will increase.
The N.C. Association of Educators vehemently opposed the bill, saying it in effect gives educators an $1,800 pay cut ó to which countless workers in the private sector can say, ěTell me about it.î Government employeesí benefits and jobs are publicly debated and voted on by elected officials, but businesses have been making similar decisions for years.
Blame the out-of-control costs of health care and insurance. The average worker in the United States paid nearly $4,000 toward the cost of family insurance coverage in 2010 ó up 14 percent from the previous year, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Educational Trust, two nonprofits that focus on health policy issues.
The voice of reason in the debate over state benefits has come from Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association. While Democrats and the teachersí group opposed the bill, Cope argued that paying insurance premiums is inevitable. Besides, the legislation also includes some attractive changes, such as shifting oversight of the plan to the State Treasurerís Office and making the terms of the planís contract with Blue Cross-Blue Shield of North Carolina public.
The question now is whether municipalities and counties will follow the stateís lead. Government employees make up a huge voting block that politicians alienate at their own peril. Some 6,000 people in Rowan County work for either the schools, city or county government or the Hefner V.A. Medical Center, and many others work in state and town offices. What hurts them could hurt all of us.
But government employees are taxpayers too. Maybe they can appreciate the difficult decisions political leaders face. Just donít expect them to be happy about it.