WASHINGTON -- Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said in an interview Friday that he is going to begin paying 20 percent of his own health care premiums voluntarily, essentially taking on a challenge that was issued to him earlier in the month from a public sector union official.
"I'm going to announce in the very near future, I'm going to lead by example and start paying 20 percent of my health insurance," Branstad told The Huffington Post in a phone interview.
"I'm going to voluntarily contribute 20 percent and I'm challenging the other elected officials and the department heads and leaders in state government to do that voluntarily even though it's not required," he said.
Branstad announced earlier this month that he wanted state employees to start paying 20 percent of their health care premiums, a move that follows in the footsteps laid out by other Republican governors across the country who have challenged public sector workers to contribute more to their health and pension benefit plans.
Branstad said 94 percent of state workers pay nothing for their health coverage, while private sector workers have to pay between 20 and 50 percent of their premiums, and self-employed Iowans have to pay 100 percent.
"That's going to end, and I'm going to lead the effort," he said.
But three weeks ago, union leader Danny Homan, state president of Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, challenged Branstad to, as the Des Moines Register described it, "take his own advice."
"Is he paying 20 percent? He keeps saying he wants to show leadership, then show it!" Homan told the Register.
Branstad said Friday he has decided to do just that.
"I'm going to lead by example," he said. "Now, we can't force the union to do that, but next year we're going into negotiation with the union. I want to be able to say, 'We're doing it. We're leading by example, and we just think as a matter of fairness you should also.'"
UPDATE: 6:21 p.m. -- Homan, the union leader from Iowa, dismissed Branstad's pledge as "grandstanding" in an interview.
"That challenge has been out there for a year a half," Homan said of his challenge for Branstad to pay 20 percent of his own health insurance premiums, which Branstad has now accepted. "Now, three months before we start negotiating, he says he's going to voluntarily pay his own health insurance. That's nothing more than political posturing and gamesmanship in my opinion."
"I think he'll do it but here's the deal, this guy's on Medicare," Homan said.
Homan softened his language a bit on his claim about Branstad being on Medicare, saying he thinks the governor receives federal benefits for U.S. citizens who are of retirement age.
"I believe he's probably on a Medicare plan, which is going to be dramatically less than what an active state employee would have to pay," Homan said. "We're talking about a single mom who makes about $25,000 a year and this man wants to tell her she has to pay $200 to $300 a month for her health insurance, and that's just wrong."
Homan also contested Branstad's claim that most state employees pay nothing for their health insurance.
"I do not believe it's 94 percent of state employees who pay nothing, because there are four plans available to state employees and in two of the plans, state employees pay in excess of $200 a month. Two of the other plans ... their health insurance is at no cost, but those plans are much more expensive to the employee. They're more a pay as you go plan," he said.