No Deal on Health Benefits

Health Benefits Report 

By Kevin Lyons 

As I write this, it is Jan. 13, exactly six months since the division presented the rate renewal reports, and we are exactly where we were then. The sad part is that there was a deal we could have lived with that would have softened the blow while we fixed the real problems with the State Health Benefits Plan. People who follow my articles will be shocked to realize that the deal breaker was the access to data by the labor members of the plan design committee (PDC).

The management plan design committee members don’t want to share the information and claims data they get with the labor members.

The proposal was essentially a grant program of $125 million for each of the next two years that, if applied for by the county or municipality, would bring the employees’ contribution down to 3 percent over last year. While that sounds great, the plan design committee would have to produce $150 million in ongoing savings.

This would mean that by the third year of the deal, the municipalities and counties would be profiting from the arrangement. The deal would also require that any year the rates surpassed 150 percent of medical inflation, the PDC would have to produce savings to reduce the rates under this benchmark.

If the plan design committee couldn’t agree to the methods of savings, then there would have been binding arbitration that would have had the arbitrator choose half of the required savings from both sides. While this would have guaranteed that at least some of our cost-saving measures were put into place, the division would have had the same ability. And for years now, they have only introduced measures that shifted costs to employees.

All of that was agreed to by both sides until it came to the open exchange of information. That’s where they drew the line, and it was a line in the sand that my colleagues would not cross. Their language was vague and not acceptable to labor, and that is where the negotiations ended.

We were told that management wants to find cost savings with us, and I will continue to work on your behalf with anyone who will listen. We had great partners in this endeavor, and I would like to thank them: Fran Ehret from the CWA, Eric Richard from the AFL-CIO, Steve Tully from AFSCME and Steve Weissman, attorney for the CWA, who represented the group in an outstanding fashion. We are blessed to have them as partners.