- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 12, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s state employees have among the richest health care plans in the nation and they get far more of their costs covered than private sector workers or those choosing health plans under the federal Affordable Care Act, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report from the Pew Charitable Trusts and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation found that North Dakota state employees get 93 percent of their health care costs covered by insurance, compared to a nationwide average of 92 percent. The report also found that North Dakota is the only state in the nation that does not require premium contributions for single employees or those with dependents.

Plans provided by private employers typically cover about 80 percent of medical costs. Most people under the new health care overhaul have opted for “silver” plans that cover about 70 percent of health care costs.

North Dakota’s state employee plans would fall into the top or “platinum” category under the new federal health care law, the report said.

North Dakota spent $158.8 million on state employee health plans in 2013, up 28 percent from 2011, the report said.

The president of the union that represents more than 11,000 public employees in the North Dakota - from kindergarten teachers to snowplow drivers - said the state’s generous health care plan is one of the few perks that help attract and retain quality workers in the oil-boom state.

“Salaries for public employees typically lag behind the private sector,” North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta said. “When you take a look at the high turnover for state employees, we need just about every incentive there is to keep people.”

North Dakota United was formed last year with the merger of the North Dakota Education Association and the North Dakota Public Employees Association.

Archuleta said some state agencies have an annual turnover rate of more than 25 percent and the salary difference between public employees and workers in the private sector is widening with the well-paying jobs led by oil development in the western part of the state.

North Dakota’s average annual wage has jumped a whopping 44 percent since 2007, when the oil boom began in earnest.

Maria Schiff, one of the report’s authors, said the report is the first of its kind and was done to provide policymakers information so they can compare health care plans with other states.

North Dakota’s oil prosperity has spurred more than 25,000 unfilled jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at less than 3 percent. Archuleta said the state more than ever needs to be competitive with workers’ benefits in the public sector.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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