Governor Terry Branstad plans to go into contract talks with the unions that represent state workers this fall and seek a major concession on benefits.

Branstad will ask state workers to pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums. Today, under the current, two-year contract that was negotiated before Branstad became governor, most state workers do not pay any part of their premiums.

“I believe that as part of our goal to be the healthiest state in the nation, everybody ought to have some skin in the game and ought to pay something towards their health insurance…and 96 percent of state employees pay nothing towards their health insurance,” Branstad says.

According to the governor, paying a portion of your own health insurance premium makes you “more connected” with cost containment. Branstad says most private sector employees pay far more of their own health care premiums than the 20 percent he’ll be proposing.

“I think that it’s just fair, but I do understand the law and know that we have to negotiate that, but I’m going to appeal to the sense of fairness and what’s right,” Branstad says. “And I think that if you look at it and you look at the thing objectively you can say, ‘Is it really fair that we have these state employees that pay zero, including legislators?”

Branstad made his comments during a meeting with editors and reporters of The Des Moines Register. Watch the entire hour-long conversation on The Register’s website.

Officials estimate the state would save more than $110 million if state workers start paying 20 percent of their health insurance premiums. Over the decades state employee benefits like health care, pensions, vacation days and sick leave have grown more generous as a means of compensating for state government salaries that are lower than what workers could earn in the private sector. Critics now contend government salary and benefit packages should be cut.

Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61 — the union representing the largest share of executive branch employees, says if Branstad wants to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation, there are a number of steps he should consider.

“Right now, there is no wellness program, diabetes management program, or stop smoking program for state employees,” Homan says. “…We are also concerned about the costs of health care. If we’re going to have a discussion about saving money, we’re interested. If it’s just about being punitive towards state employees, then that’s shameful.”

Homan also criticizes the governor for engaging in “borderline bargaining” through the media.

“He should leave the details to the bargaining table,” Homan says.