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State workers in Arizona get 'platinum' insurance

PHOENIX -- A new study released Tuesday shows most states provide their employees with health insurance that most private workers would envy -- and Arizona is no exception.

The study by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the MacArthur Foundation shows the vast majority of people employed by the state of Arizona are enrolled in a zero-deductible plan that would be considered a ``platinum'' plan under the Affordable Care Act.

The state plan covers an estimated 94 percent of medical costs. That compares to a typical ``silver'' plan on the federal health insurance exchange that pays just 70 percent. The average private employer-provided plan pays 80 percent.

Arizona is among the states that pay the largest share of insurance costs, covering all but 7 percent of the premium for single employees and 12 percent of the costs for workers with dependents.

Arizona's health insurance plans cover more than 128,000 active state and university employees, their dependents and retirees. The state offers three plans, but 95 percent of enrollees pay no deductibles.

The rich plan may be one of the things lawmakers look at next year when they have to deal with major budget deficits, House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanagh said.

``I do believe that we had increased copays as part of strategies to decrease state costs,'' Kavanagh said. ``But since we're facing a budget deficit of $800 million next year and $1.2 billion thereafter, I guess we'll be looking at that and many other things.''

Kavanagh acknowledged that good benefits are one of the ways the state attracts workers to jobs that might not pay as much as those in the private sector.

According to the study, Arizona's health insurance costs dropped by 5 percent from 2011 through 2013, from $643 million a year to $611 million.

The state insurance fund's annual report says administrators effectively controlled the rise in health care costs through benefit design, administrative oversight, strategic planning, auditing, and effective contract management.

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