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‘The biggest crisis we’re facing’

Unions look for health care savings
New York Teacher

UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Delegate Assembly on Nov. 16 that the increasingly unique benefit enjoyed by New York City employees — high-quality, premium-free health coverage — is under threat unless municipal unions can find health savings.

“Health care is the biggest crisis we’re facing,” he said.

For decades, the UFT and its fellow unions have pushed hospitals and insurance providers to rein in costs. In the latest effort, Mulgrew said, the Municipal Labor Committee, which negotiates health benefits, and the city are seeking requests for proposals from insurance providers to offer coverage for in-service union members that would be 10% less costly than the most-popular city plan, GHI CBP.

At the same time, the Municipal Labor Committee is working with the city to negotiate a Medicare Advantage plan for Medicare-eligible city retirees that would have the same or better benefits than what retirees have now. The savings would come from the new federal subsidies that the city would have access to.

The first iteration of a Medicare Advantage plan was delayed by litigation spearheaded by retirees angry that GHI Senior Care, the previous premium-free plan, was becoming a pay-up plan. In July, Empire BlueCross BlueShield withdrew as plan administrator because of the costly delays.

The unions are now in talks with Aetna on a new Medicare Advantage program for city retirees.

The size of the retiree membership allows the MLC and the city to negotiate better terms with an insurance provider, Mulgrew said. One provision the unions will insist on is that in cases where a provider refuses to authorize a procedure, an expedited appeal would be heard by an independent expert with knowledge in that medical area, he said.

At stake is continuing premium-free coverage at a time when unionized employees of the nation’s four next-largest cities, New York State workers and members of all other affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers — the UFT’s parent union — are all paying premiums.

“New York City is still the biggest unicorn in that it’s still premium-free and it’s robust,” Mulgrew told the delegates.