Starting August 1, Governor Branstad will begin giving up part of his salary each month to cover 20 percent of his health insurance premium. The governor has asked his state agency directors to do the same and has set up a system so all state workers can voluntarily give up a part of their pay to cover health care premiums.

“Hard working Iowa taxpayers are accustomed to paying a significant amount for their health costs whether they’re working for a private sector business or a non-profit or, of course, if they’re self-employed they’re paying 100 percent,” Branstad says. “And for far too long the tax dollars of these hard working Iowans have gone to pay the entire cost for most of our state employees’ health care.”

About 94 percent of state employees get all their health insurance premiums covered by the state under the current state employment contract. According to Branstad, the state would save more than $100 million if all workers paid 20 percent of their premiums, but Branstad says there is no consequence for workers who do not volunteer to pay part of their health care premiums and no threat of worker layoffs if the state doesn’t cut costs in this way.

“We also understand that with regard to having everybody do it, it has to be negotiated,” Branstad says.

The president of the union that represents the largest share of executive branch employees has accused Branstad of negotiating in public on this topic, as formal contract negotiations do not start ’til November. AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan has also suggested the state should start diabetes prevention and other wellness programs for state workers, to help curb rising health costs.

Branstad has asked other statewide elected officials to give up part of their salary to cover 20 percent of their health care premiums, but he’s not asking the 150 members of the Iowa legislature to do it.

“That’s up to them,” Branstad says.

Branstad will give up $224 from his pay each month to cover the premium for himself and his wife. Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds has agreed to give up $153 of her monthly salary to cover 20 percent of the cost of her health insurance plan.

“I’m excited to take the first step, along with Governor Branstad, towards state employees contributing to the cost of their health care,” Reynolds says.

By 11:20 this morning, administrators in the offices of Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey, State Auditor Dave Vaudt and Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz indicated Northey, Vaudt and Schultz — all Republicans — would join fellow Republicans Branstad and Reynolds in giving up part of their salaries to cover health insurance premium.

“The Secretary believes that state employees should contribute some percentage towards their own health care costs, and to that end, he will be contributing 20 percent of the cost of his own coverage,” said Chad Olsen, communications director of Secretary of State Matt Schultz.

Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, is considering it, according to his spokesman. State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, also a Democrat, has not had a chance to review the information Branstad presented Fitzgerald at 10 a.m. today at the state Executive Council meeting, according to Deputy Treasurer Karen Austin. 

“There is a process that insurance rates go through before they reach the Executive Council and this change did not go through the normal process.  Therefore, (Fitzgerald) will review the information and make an informed decision,” Austin said.

One Republican legislator — Senate Minority Leader Jerry Behn — issued a statement saying he would join Branstad and Reynolds. 

“I applaud the decision by Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds to pay a portion of their health care costs beginning August 1. It is the right thing to do and as Senate Republican Leader, I will join with them,” Behn said. “It is important for leaders to lead by example and I hope Senate Majority Leader Gronstal will join with me in paying a portion of his costs in order to reduce the size of government and allow the hardworking taxpayers of Iowa to keep more of their own money.”

Lieutenant Governor Reynolds says she and Branstad expect a “significant” number of state employees volunteer to pay 20 percent of their health care premiums.

Homan — the head of the AFSCME union in Iowa — accuses the Branstad administration of “bullying” state workers on the issue. Homan says if Branstad wants to have a “serious discussion about the cost of health care,” the union will have one with him, but if Branstad’s only interested in “being punitive toward state employees, then that’s shameful,” according to Homan.

AUDIO of governor’s weekly news conference (25:00)

(This story was updated at 11, 11:15 and 11:30 a.m. as well as 12:12 p.m. with additional information.)