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State of Oklahoma employees brace for health insurance cost increase

Sterling Zearley, director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said the health insurance rate hikes are going to be tough on state employees.
by Randy Ellis Modified: August 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: August 26, 2013

In 2012, the state froze the amount it allocates to employees for insurance benefits, so employees will have to absorb the premium hikes, Zearley said.

Even after the hike, Oklahoma's insurance benefits will still be among the most lucrative in the country.

State employees receive a fixed allowance on top of their wages to cover the cost of health insurance. The current annual allowance is $7,273 for the worker, an additional $8,061 for the employee's spouse, and an additional $2,759 if one dependent child is on the plan or an additional $4,383 if two or more children are covered.

The allowance adds up to $19,717 a year for a family of four.

The allowances are high enough that single employees without dependents currently can choose coverage from any but the most expensive two of the state's eight health insurance options, add dental, vision and life insurance coverage, and still have money left over to supplement their salaries.

That still will be true after the hike, but they will have less allowance money left over to supplement their salaries. The portion that is rolled over into salaries becomes taxable.

For families on all but the most expensive two health plan options, allowances have been and will continue to be high enough to cover their health insurance premiums. But many are already kicking in extra money for dental, vision and/or life insurance for their families. That amount will go up in January.

Zearley acknowledged the state's health plan is generous, but said most studies show state employees are paid 19 percent to 25 percent below private sector salaries and many state employees count on the allowances to supplement their salaries.

At the governor's request, a compensation study currently is being done and will be used to make recommendations for future raises.

John Estus, spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said the study is not yet complete, but it is likely that a phased in approach to pay changes and benefits will be recommended.

To see 2013 premiums To see 2014 premiums
by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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