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Iowa lawmakers may not be paying enough for insurance

Jasper County officials among those paying $20 a month

DES MOINES — More than two-thirds of Iowa’s legislators are paying hundreds of dollars less per month than they should be for their health insurance, costing taxpayers about $350,000 a year and possibly breaking a state law.

The Des Moines Register analyzed data showing that 92 of Iowa’s 149 legislators pay as little as $20 a month in health insurance premiums, rather than the $142 to $334 a month those plans call for. Nearly 40 other lawmakers pay up to $344 a month for coverage plans, rather than as much as $446 their plans call for.

The newspaper found the total underpayments are costing taxpayers more than $29,000 a month, or about $350,000 a year.

The investigation comes as state lawmakers are discussing possible changes to state workers’ benefits.

Both the state’s Department of Administrative Services, which provided the data, and Attorney General’s Office declined to comment to the paper.

The nearly 35-year-old law that governs Iowa’s executive branch extends health insurance to legislators, but says they’re eligible only for insurance plans made available under group plans to non-union employees.

The newspaper found that state lawmakers are paying the lower health insurance premiums available to union members, while receiving the better benefits afforded in non-union plans. That means their out-of-pocket maximum costs are decreased.

Jasper County’s Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, Sen. Chaz Allen, D-Newton, and Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, are among the elected officials paying just $20 per month. Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Columbia, is paying $333 for his plan, which is also less than the non-union rate.

Allen said lawmakers should not be treated any differently than other state employees when it comes to health care.

“I believe the Secretary of the Senate and the Legislative Council should review the health insurance plans offered to lawmakers and make sure the law is being followed,” Allen said.

Heartsill said state employees should pay their fair share for their health insurance, just like the private sector. Legislators should as well, he said.

There are already plans in place to increase the amount the legislature is contributing to health insurance, so the problem may already have a solution in the works, said Sinclair.

Danny Homan, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, said this situation is particularly unfair given that the Legislature has said it intends to rewrite the state’s collective-bargaining law.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers say they were unaware of the problem before the newspaper contacted them.

“Our premiums do seem to conflict with the law,” said Rep. Dave Deyoe, R-Nevada, and chairman of the House Labor Committee.

Drake University constitutional law professor Mark Kende said the issue raises “statutory construction” questions, meaning they may need to be resolved by a court.

“There’s just something about it that seems questionable,” Kende said.

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