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President's Perspective

At a health care crossroads

New York Teacher
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

UFT President Michael Mulgrew

We are at a crossroads in our health care battle. I was proud to stand with Manhattan Council Member Julie Menin on Dec. 7 as she introduced a bill that would establish an Office of Healthcare Accountability. The office would require all city hospitals to disclose the cost of medical procedures, and it would audit city spending on employee-related health care costs.

The city could be overpaying private hospitals by as much as $2.4 billion a year, according to a recent report commissioned by SEIU Local 32BJ. In the end, it’s the workers who are getting fleeced. It’s time for hospitals and insurance providers to be held accountable for price gouging. It’s time to say enough is enough.

Make no mistake, the escalating cost of health care is a national issue that requires federal intervention. But with Republicans retaking control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January, federal legislation to rein in the health care industry is unlikely for the next two years. We need to keep pushing at the federal level, but in the meantime, we must figure out a way to stabilize the cost of our own health benefits so we can avoid premiums for at least the next five years.

Our decades-long approach to finding creative ways to rein in health care costs without compromising care has pushed us to explore all available options. The city and the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) have put out a request for proposals to find a health insurance provider that can offer benefits that are as good or better than the current GHI CBP plan for in-service members but at less cost.

Meanwhile, we are in the midst of negotiating a new premium-free health care plan for all Medicare-eligible city retirees. We see a possible opportunity to use the Medicare Advantage system to create a new plan for retirees that would have the strength and quality our retirees deserve while allowing us to tap into $600 million annually in federal subsidies.

We have been pushing the City Council to amend the city’s administrative code to reaffirm the unions’ bargaining authority and to preserve health plan choices for our Medicare-eligible retirees. Unless the Council changes the code, the option of pay-up plans will be eliminated for retirees.

But whether or not the administrative code changes, the city and the MLC are moving forward with a new Medicare Advantage plan because it’s the right thing to do.

No matter what issue arises, we at the UFT never lay back and let it happen to us. We shape our own destiny. For decades, the UFT and our fellow city unions have been pushing back against the greed of hospitals and other health care providers. We will continue to do so with the creation of an Office of Healthcare Accountability and other strategies. And we will leverage our enormous buying power to extract the best contract terms from health insurance providers.

As city workers, we go into our professions to take care of others with an understanding that we will be taken care of in retirement. Retiree benefits are hard-earned, and the UFT will continue to fight to make sure they are not compromised.

The health care issue affects all of us, and we are all in this together. We are one union, both in-service and retired UFT members, and we are going to look out for one another as we navigate the challenging road ahead.

Related Topics: Health Benefits, President