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People protesting Gov. Scott Walker's bill to change collective bargaining for public employees march around the state Capitol on Feb. 18, 2011. People protesting Gov. Scott Walker's bill to change collective bargaining for public employees march around the state Capitol on Feb. 18, 2011.

People protesting Gov. Scott Walker's bill to change collective bargaining for public employees march around the state Capitol on Feb. 18, 2011.

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher December 9, 2013

Scott Walker says most public employees in Wisconsin paying more for health insurance, but still far less than private sector

Less than a month after his inauguration in January 2011, Gov. Scott Walker drew a bead on state employees and what they pay toward their health insurance premiums.

Even if what most of the workers paid were doubled, Walker said in his first "state of the state" speech, they would still only being paying half the national average.

We rated that claim True. State workers were paying about 6 percent of their premiums, so doubling would put that at 12 percent; meanwhile, the national average -- for public and private employees -- was 29 percent.

Nearly three years later, the Republican governor, on a higher platform as an author and potential presidential candidate, made a similar assertion.

In a Nov. 27, 2013 interview on Wisconsin Public Radio about his new book, Walker reflected on Act 10, the law that made most state -- as well as local -- government employees pay more for benefits. It also erased most of their collective bargaining powers.

"In the end, do public employees -- including me and my family -- pay a little bit more for pensions and health care? Absolutely," Walker told host Joy Cardin.

"But still far less than what our counterparts pay outside of government. Most people in this state pay 20 to 25 percent, for example, of their health insurance. Most of our public employees are still paying about 12 to 13 percent."

Let’s hit the ledgers again.

Act 10 and state workers

When we contacted Walker spokesman Tom Evenson about Walker’s new claim, he insisted that when the governor said public employes, he was referring only to state employees; Evenson also said "state employees" and "public employees" are synonymous.

But that certainly would not have been clear to listeners.

In the radio interview, Walker referred twice in quick succession to public employees, which would include not only state workers -- who number about 70,000 -- but some 200,000 local government and school employees, as well.

Indeed, Act 10, the focus of Walker’s remarks, applies to that much larger group of public employees (except for police and firefighters, who were exempted from the law).

Walker signed the innocuously labeled budget-repair bill, known formally as Act 10, in March 2011, after unprecedented protests in and around the state Capitol.

The law did double, from 6 percent to 12 percent, what the vast majority of state employees pay toward health insurance premiums. That also applies to nearly 13,000 local government workers who get health insurance through the state.

But Act 10 does not determine how much the vast majority of local public employees pay toward their premiums.

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Other public workers

Local schools employ 99,000 full-time-equivalent employees statewide. Before Act 10, school workers who got health insurance through school districts paid an average of 4 percent to 5 percent of their premiums, according to school districts responding to a 2010-’11 survey by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. Now, the average is 10 percent.

The association’s data is by district and isn’t broken down to indicate what percentage most school employees pay. But the average figure show goes to Walker’s point that school employees are paying significantly less than private-sector workers.

There are no such surveys for employees of cities, villages, towns and counties.

Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said Walker’s claim of 12 percent to 13 percent might be a little high, but is a reasonable estimate as an average of what city and village employees around the state pay toward their premiums.

So, that figure also helps Walker make his case.

The municipalities group had no hard number. Nor did the Wisconsin Counties Association or the Wisconsin Towns Association.

So, Walker’s figure of 12 percent to 13 percent is accurate for state employees and a significant number of other public employees are paying that rate or less.

Private sector

As for the second part of Walker’s claim, Walker’s spokesman pointed us to 2012 figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Wisconsin residents working in the private sector.

They show employees paid 22 percent of the cost of the health insurance premiums for single coverage and 24 percent for family coverage.

We posed Walker’s claim to Dave Jensen, editorial director of HCTrends, a Milwaukee health care research organization. He cited the same federal figures, known as the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

Jensen pointed out that the federal figures include public- as well as private-sector employees. But he said the proportion of public employees is so small that the federal figures still provide a solid estimate of how much private-sector employees are paying for health insurance.

Our rating

Walker said that even after his collective bargaining reforms, most Wisconsin public employees "are still paying about 12 to 13 percent" of their health insurance premiums, while most state residents who work in the private sector "pay 20 to 25 percent."

The available figures indicate many if not most public employees are paying at or less than 12 percent and Walker was right on the private-sector workers part of his claim.

We rate his statement Mostly True.

To comment on this item, go to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website

Our Sources

Wisconsin Public Radio, Joy Cardin show (14:50), Nov. 27, 2013

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says state employees could pay twice as much for health care premiums and still be paying half the national average," Feb. 8, 2011

Wisconsin Office of State Employment Relations, State of Wisconsin health insurance premium contributions,

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "With Democrats absent, Republicans advance collective bargaining changes," March 9, 2011

Email interview, Gov. Scott Walker press secretary Tom Evenson, Dec. 3, 2013

Interview, HCTrends editorial director Dave Jensen, Dec. 3, 2013

Interview, Wisconsin Towns Association executive director Rick Stadelman, Dec. 4, 2013

Interview, Wisconsin Counties Association director of government affairs Kyle Christianson, Dec. 4, 2013

Interview, League of Wisconsin Municipalities executive director Dan Thompson, Dec. 4, 2013

Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds, Act 10 memo, May 20, 2011

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey

Interview, Citizen Action of Wisconsin executive director Robert Kraig, Dec. 3, 2013

Wisconsin Association of School Boards, 2010-’11 health insurance survey

Wisconsin Association of School Boards, 2012-’13 health insurance survey

Email interview, Wisconsin Association of School Boards associate executive director Bob Butler, Dec. 4, 2013

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, "2012-13 staff report update"

Email interview, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction communications officer Patrick Gasper, Dec. 4, 2013

Email interview, Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds director of communications and legislation Mark Lamkins, Dec. 4, 2013

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Scott Walker says most public employees in Wisconsin paying more for health insurance, but still far less than private sector

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