- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 12, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota’s public workers receive less-generous health plans than their counterparts in most other states, but their insurance benefits are superior to other South Dakota residents who have private insurance or are enrolled in the federal marketplace, according to a study released Tuesday.

The report, which the Pew Charitable Trust bills as the first of its kind, is a comprehensive look at how states are spending money on health care for state employees. It shows the richness of the plans in each state by looking at the “actuarial value,” or the average percentage of health care costs paid for by the plan.

On average, state health plans nationwide paid 92 percent of a typical enrollee’s health care costs last year. In South Dakota, health plans paid 89 percent of health care costs, which is more comprehensive than most plans people choose through the Affordable Care Act or receive from their private company, but one of the lowest in the nation for public employees, according to the study’s findings.

In only eight other states do public employees pay a greater portion of their health care costs. Health care plans in Georgia cover 80 percent of medical costs while plans in Connecticut cover 98 percent on average.

Most people nationwide that are buying insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces are choosing the “sliver” plan, which means 70 percent of the costs are covered. South Dakota’s plan for state workers at 89 percent would be considered a “gold” plan under the marketplace designations. The “platinum” tier begins at 90 percent.

Plans through private companies typically cover around 80 percent of the costs.

While overall medical costs covered by the state in South Dakota are lower, the report finds South Dakota provides benefits unlike many others.

Only South Dakota and six other states cover the total cost of health care premiums for individual employees. All states, except North Dakota, have to at least pay a percentage of the premiums for their dependents.

On average, state employees pay about 15 percent of their monthly premium costs.

Eric Ollila, the executive director of the South Dakota Employees Organization, which lobbies for state workers, said employees have seen changes or increases to their plans almost every year.

“While state employees are grateful for the health insurance they have, they would certainly like to keep it where they’re at, if not get better,” he said.