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Joe Guillen
By Joe Guillen March 10, 2011

Gov. John Kasich cites disparity between what private sector workers and city employees pay toward health benefits

Republicans in Ohio have offered a variety of arguments to justify their controversial effort to overhaul the state’s collective bargaining law, which for nearly 30 years has set the ground rules for public workers and their employers to reach labor agreements.

A new collective bargaining law, known as Senate Bill 5, is making is way through the state legislature with strong support from Republican Gov. John Kasich. The bill would scale back public workers’ rights at the bargaining table and has prompted unions to fight back with protests and promises to get even in the voting booth.

Kasich and Republicans say the current rules have resulted in costly labor pacts that cities and other local governments can no longer afford. As an example, Kasich pointed out the relatively low price public workers pay towards their employer-supported health care plans in a recent interview with Fox News.

"Our average private sector employee pays 23 percent for their health care," Kasich said. "Our average city worker in Ohio pays 9 percent."

Because that’s a pretty wide disparity, PolitiFact Ohio decided to check the governor’s numbers.

We started with Kasich’s claim that private sector workers contribute 23 percent of their health care premiums. Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols pointed us to a report from The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a conservative think tank, titled "The Grand Bargain is Dead."

That study compared compensation paid to state workers and private sector employees and concluded that state workers’ pay is out of balance.

The state could cut into its projected $8 billion budget deficit if it could find ways to reduce their pay and benefits, the study noted. One suggestion it made: force government workers to pay the same health care premiums, out-of-pocket costs for carrying health insurance, as private sector workers.

"State government workers today pay roughly 17 percent of the premium costs for the health care coverage. The premium costs for private-sector workers in Ohio is 23 percent," the report said. More specifically, the report figures the average cost of family health insurance policies provided by Ohio firms is $11,425, with the employee paying $2,642.

The report cites a January 2010 e-mail with a U.S. Department of Labor economist as evidence for its claim. We contacted the economist, Miranda Moore, and she pointed us to the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which has polled nearly 470,000 private firms in Ohio in 2008 and 2009 combined.

The numbers in the Buckeye Institute’s report were contained in the 2008 survey. The 2009 survey showed private sector workers in Ohio paid 31 percent of their premiums for a family policy. Moore said in an e-mail to us that the survey is a source the Employee Benefits Security Administration references often.

As for the premium percentage that city workers pay for health care, Kasich relied on a State Employment Relations Board report, Nichols said.

The 2010 Report on the Cost of Health Insurance in Ohio’s Public Sector aims to provide data that can be used during labor negotiations.

SERB surveyed every public employer in Ohio, including the state, cities, counties, school districts and state universities, about the costs of their medical premiums. Of 1,359 surveys sent out, SERB received 1,080 back, including nearly three quarters of the cities -- 184 out of 248.

SERB concluded that city workers in Ohio pay 8.1 percent of their health care coverage for single coverage and 8.3 percent for family coverage. Most of the plans include coverage for prescription drugs, but plans for dental and vision coverage typically are not included, the report said.

Kasich spokesman Scott Milburn said the governor used 9 percent instead of 8 percent to be on the safe side.

Kasich relied on government surveys for both parts of his statement, and the averages cited in those surveys match the numbers in his claim. We rate the statement True.

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Gov. John Kasich cites disparity between what private sector workers and city employees pay toward health benefits

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