Health Care Plans Can Change
As Health Care Costs Skyrocketed, One Local Took Control
A recent poll conducted among public school education support professionals (ESP) lists health care as the primary concern of almost one-third of those polled.
In specific, they fear loosing their health care benefits. I can relate to that. I was faced with that issue when the factory that I was employed at for nearly 11 years suddenly closed. Along with its death went my group health insurance.
I decided afterwards to apply for work with the school district where I've been employed now for more than 25 years. Health care was the reason.
When I started work at the school district, employees were required to pay about 33 percent of the cost of their health insurance. The employer paid the rest with all employees participating in the group plan. Employees did have the option to pay the additional cost for family coverage.
Then one day in the recent past, things changed dramatically. In the case of my school, our group experienced some devastating illnesses. In addition, health care costs in general escalated enormously during the same time period.
Turns out that our employer couldn't cover the approximately 66 percent of health care costs they agreed to. Instead, they could only pay $150 toward our health care.
In negotiating our last contract, we took a radical approach to employee health care.
First, we had the employer freeze the $150 contribution toward our health care and, instead of an increase on insurance, we bargained for a percentage increase on our salary. We still require that all employees participate in the group health care plan.
Second, we pay the majority of the cost of our health care through payroll deductions. Another big change is that we are in charge of our plan. Representatives of the ESP and teacher Associations interviewed, took bids, and voted on contracts with insurance companies. We did not get stuck with the health care provider chosen by our employer.
As a result, each individual now has the ability to tailor their health insurance to their needs and salaries. They also have the option of contributing to their own health care spending account.
A Safe Bet
The employer cannot drop our health care insurance because we are now in control of it.
Since we took a pay increase instead of a health care contribution, every time we negotiate a percentage salary increase, we are actually receiving an increase on what the employer once contributed to our health care insurance. The payroll deduction is still tax sheltered since it is used for our health insurance coverage, but it also is allowable as total income toward our retirement.
The idea of having our employer to freeze their contribution to our health care insurance may sound completely foolish. In fact, our UniServ director, Marcus Albrecht, of the Illinois Education Association, thought we had lost our minds when we told him that we had asked the school board to lock in their contribution to our health care coverage.
Not for Everyone
Now, the only way we can possibly loose our health care coverage would be for the insurance company to drop our group from their plan. And, if that were to happen, we would simply seek bids from other insurance companies, interview their representatives, review their options, and vote on which company we want as our health care provider.
This approach certainly isn't for everyone. If you have good coverage, your employer is making a comfortable contribution toward your health care plan. If your Association is happy with that then don't try to fix something that isn't broken.
(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.
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