State workers protest benefit changes


About 30 people—mostly state workers—took time off this morning to attend a hearing on cuts to their benefit package that went into effect prior to legislative review.

Workers demanded the hearing after the state Division of Human Resources, in late August, implemented temporary rule changes that cut the amount of time allowed for short-term disability leave and eliminated paid time off for doctor visits, among dozens of smaller changes.

Selma Gearhardt, pictured above, a pharmacy specialist at Idaho’s Medicaid program, testified that she counsels people all day to go to their preventative doctor and dental visits in order to catch disease early. But then the state takes away a benefit that encourages state workers to do the same.

“Restore effective health care policy that supports the benefit of prevention. Recognize what we have always known: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’” Gearhardt said in her written testimony.

DHR director Judie Wright arranged the hearing after more than 25 workers demanded it.(The state received petitions from at least 200 employees, according to testimony from the state workers' union). Wright said the testimony will be reviewed and any changes will be reported in about a week and a half.

The Idaho Association of Government Employees, the state workers' union, protested the timing of the hearing—10 a.m. on a Monday morning, but Wright said that was the time that the court reporter was available.

“We didn’t have very long to get it done,” Wright said. “We’re supposed to have our comments done by the 14th.”

No one testified in favor of the rule changes at the Monday hearing. The legislature will review the rules starting in January and legislation to authorize paid leave for preventive doctors visits has already been discussed.