DES MOINES -- Iowa state employees receive health benefits comparable to the most expensive option offered on the federal health care marketplaces and pay little for the coverage, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report from the Pew Charitable Trusts and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation shows the quality of the coverage in each state by looking at the "actuarial value," or the average percentage of overall health care costs paid for by the plan.
In Iowa, the state pays 97 percent of the cost for an average worker. That's higher than a national average of 92 percent. Iowa is one of six states that pay 97 percent or more of the health care costs for an average employee.
The plan most people buy through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces is the "silver" plan, which means 70 percent of the costs are covered. Iowa's plan for state workers would be considered a "platinum" plan under the marketplace designations.
In Iowa, the average per month premium for employees was $982, with the state paying an average of 97 percent of the costs and employees paying the remaining 3 percent. Arkansas, New Jersey, Vermont and Wisconsin all have average total premium costs of more than $1,300 each month per employee, though the percentage paid by the state varies.
According to the report, the study was commissioned to provide state officials with more detailed information about health benefit costs for public workers, at a time when many state governments are reviewing health care spending and looking for ways to manage expenses.
Union leaders said they have fought to maintain Iowa's health care offerings. State workers received a new contract through an arbitration process in 2013. As part of that deal, workers agreed to no overall raises in order to block any increases to health care contributions.
"We get what we get because we bargained for it for 37 years," said Danny Homan, president of Iowa Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "We've given up raises multiple times."
Gov. Terry Branstad has called for union members to start paying a portion of health care costs. After the latest contract was announced, he expressed disappointment that state workers would not have to contribute more, but said the lack of pay increases would help make the deal affordable.
Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said Tuesday that the governor would still like to reduce health care costs for state workers.
"For too long, hardworking taxpayers have paid for their own health care while footing the entire bill for government employees, who in some cases pay nothing toward their coverage," Centers said in an email statement.