Tennessee state employees face higher health premiums

State employees in Tennessee, on average, pay more per month in health insurance premiums than government employees in other states, according to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

But the report also says that Tennessee employees tend to have slightly better plans.

Specifically, in Tennessee, the average total health insurance premium per month is $1,026 per employee. State employers pay about 81 percent of that, leaving employees to pick up 19 percent.

Nationwide, the average premium per employee per month is $963, the study found. States pay 84 percent of the premium on average, and employees pay 16 percent.

Even though Tennessee state employees pay a greater percentage of the premium, government health insurance plans tend to be have slightly better benefits, too. Tennessee health plans pay, on average, 93 percent of an employee's health care costs, compared with the national average of 92 percent.

State health plans are rich in general, the report says: "By way of context, these plans would be designated 'platinum' plans within the new health insurance marketplaces."

The report is one of many that Pew is publishing in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation in a series called the State Health Care Spending Project. Other reports will look at state spending on Medicaid and prison health care, among other topics.

In total, "States spent $30.8 billion to insure 2.7 million employee households, a slight uptick in spending from 2011 and 2012," according to the report.

The spend on employee health care is an important issue, said State Health Care Project Director Maria Schiff, as all employers, public and private alike, look to monitor costs. She adds that the state of Tennessee must compete with other employers for talent, which can affect plan design.

Another factor states face is that government employees tend to be older than people with private-sector jobs. "The fact that they're older and they have been shown to have a higher prevalence of chronic disease means that their health care services are going to be more expensive," Schiff said, "presumably because they take medication and go for checkups." Those services get folded into the price of premiums, she says.

The report is careful to hedge that many factors determine the true cost of state health insurance plans. Still, it says, "These data and analysis offer important information as policymakers seek the best way to make their employee benefit systems effective, affordable, and sustainable."


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