To Medicaid With You

State to jack part-timer insurance premiums 250%


When Kim Pierce, a 20-year part-time employee at Boise State, gets her November 13 paycheck, she expects it to be in the amount of $76. That's $76 of take-home pay for 40 hours of work for the State of Idaho.

The reason for the imminent demise of her paycheck is a unilateral move by the Department of Administration to charge some part-time employees more for health insurance.

In Pierce's case, since she works 20 hours a week, gets summers off, and is not a professor, judge or state legislator, her employee contributions to the state insurance plan will jump 250 percent, from $109 per month to $381.50 per month.

At least that's what she's been told, but the state just rolled out the new guidelines on Oct. 5, less than a month before they go into effect, so even if Pierce wanted to attempt to get on her husband's health plan at his office--and there is no guarantee that she'd be able to join outside an open enrollment period--she has very little time to sort it out.

Department of Administration director Mike Gwartney explained the move in a recent guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman, stating that it was not fair for part-time workers to get the same benefits for the same cost as full-time workers.

In August, during his State of the University address, Boise State President Bob Kustra addressed the rising cost of insurance for part-timers, then thought to be a 40 percent increase, calling it a Faustian bargain, a deal with the devil.

"I wish just once somebody would say, 'How's the lab technician going to handle the 40 percent increase? How's the custodian going to handle the 40 percent increase? Will he drop his coverage, will he simply fail to pay?'" Kustra said. "Believe me, those are the important questions we ought to be asking around this place, not how the football team's going to be doing. I don't know how else to put it."

The state Legislature has not agreed with Gwartney's insurance scheme and fully funded part-time state workers' health coverage during the last session.

"The concept might be an appropriate one but I don't like the way that the Governor's Office has managed this," said Sen. Kate Kelly, Democratic leader in the Senate.

The administration announced the changes a week after the Legislature adjourned and is implementing them before it returns, eliminating opportunities for public comment.

But as BW hits the streets today, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is meeting at Boise State and reviewing Gwartney's plan.

The 233 part-time workers at Boise State affected by the new insurance tiers plan to let lawmakers know they are not happy.

"That money is not going to make a huge difference to the BSU budget but it's going to make a huge difference to BSU employees and their families," said Alex Neiworth of the Idaho Association of Government Employees, which represents some of the part-timers. "We're going to ask them to stop it, to put everything on hold, stop the plan and have this thing debated in the open."