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Idaho gives state workers premium health coverage

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's employee health insurance plans are comparable to the federal government's most expensive option offered under the Affordable Care Act and better than what most private companies provide, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report from the Pew Charitable Trusts says Idaho covers 93 percent of all medical costs for state employees. The report is the first of its kind to shine light on states' largest source of health care spending, second only to Medicaid spending.

Private Idaho employers' plans generally cover 80 percent of medical costs, while most Idaho residents who buy federal plans on the state's health insurance exchange purchase less expensive options that cover 70 percent of medical costs.

Pew project director Maria Schiff said health insurance costs have become a leading budget driver for all states, but until recently, little has been known about how they compare with one another and with the private sector.

"How states manage their employee benefits affects states' fiscal health," Schiff said. "It also influences their ability to recruit staff as well as state employees' physical, mental and financial well-being."

The average total premium per Idaho public worker was $860 per employee, per month in 2013. The national average was $963 per employee, per month. Idaho state employees' share of 10 percent of their health care costs falls below the national average of 16 percent, according to the report.

Overall, Idaho spent $185.7 million in 2013 on health care plans for state employees, up 5 percent from 2011. Nationally, costs rose 2 percent during the same time, for a total of $31 billion in spending last year to insure state employees.

Idaho is one of just three states to charge employees a higher premium after they take early retirement, to help offset higher health care costs. Most states charge retirees who aren't quite eligible for Medicare the same rate as active employees, but Idaho charges 19 percent more. That means an early retirement premium rate was $568 in 2013 compared with the $476 rate for an active employee.

The report noted, however, that even with Idaho's more expensive rate, the amount still wasn't high enough to cover the higher health care costs of early retirees.

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