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Battle to preserve premium-free health care

New York Teacher

The union used its Oct. 12 Delegate Assembly to brief delegates on the national health care crisis and its impact on UFT members.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew warned that the UFT and its fellow unions are entering a fierce battle to protect their premium-free health care.

“This is a line in the sand — we have to be vigilant about this,” he declared.

Mulgrew laid out the challenges that unions nationwide face as health care costs continue to escalate. “You’re seeing unions settle contracts with raises but they’re losing money,” he said, because out-of-pocket health care premiums and high deductibles offset the wage gains.

UFT Welfare Fund Executive Director Geof Sorkin furnished more data about the rising cost of health care in his presentation to the delegates.

Hospitals and drug companies are charging increasingly exorbitant amounts, he said. In the last 20 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, national hospital costs have tripled and other medical charges have more than doubled, far outpacing increases in average family income. Health care costs in New York City run even higher — up to 10% more than the national average, he said.

In 10 years, New York City’s spending on health care for its employees will go from $6.4 billion annually in 2013 to a projected $11.8 billion in 2023. For example, Sorkin said, the bill for a hospital stay in New York State increased 73% over the past seven years.

Sorkin noted that New York City municipal employees are among a small number of unionized workforces nationally whose members don’t pay a premium for basic health benefits. He told delegates that large cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix all require employee premiums, deductibles and higher copayments.

The health care industry and the city are pushing hard to shift costs onto the members of New York City’s municipal unions in the form of premiums, Sorkin said. “The UFT and its fellow unions believe there is a better solution,” he said. “Use our collective buying power to get medical providers to deliver services more efficiently and at less cost.”

This fall, the city, with the support of the Municipal Labor Committee, the umbrella group of municipal unions that negotiates health benefits for all city workers, is soliciting health care providers to offer coverage for active employees equivalent to what is provided under the GHI CBP program, the largest city plan, but at a cost that is 10% less expensive.

Sorkin said the city and the MLC plan to use a negotiated acquisition process that will allow for lots of back-and-forth between the winning bidder and the city and the unions to ensure the new plan provides the same standard of care as GHI and allows in-service members to keep all their existing health benefits.

Related Topics: Health Benefits