One for the road: EMU-AAUP and Healthcare

Sorry, I wasn’t going to post again here before I left town, but I couldn’t resist after today’s email from EMU-AAUP president Howard Bunsis and the info on the web site they posted about the administration’s proposal for health care. The short version is the administration wants to offer two plans: a sort of “catostrophic” insurance policy that is free (well, with a lot of costs if you actually need a doctor), and the Blue Cross PPO, which would cost something like $750 a year for a single person, $1500 for a family of four or more.

There’s a pdf file on the site that compares the administration’s take with the union’s (though, of course, put together by the union). Here’s a link, but just to go through a few thoughts of my own about this:

  • The administration and the union can’t even agree if health care is costing us more, which is just another example in my mind about the problem of not having an agreed-upon set of numbers to look at.
  • I realize that $1500 a year for a family represents a significant increase over what faculty pay now, which is zero (though how much of an increase it actually is is hard to figure– see below). But the problem that the union is likely to have in my mind is one of PR. Frankly, $1500 a year, even with the other expenses, is peanuts. I was getting my teeth cleaned the other day, and the dental hygienist told me that she pays her husband’s insurance at a tune of $350 a month, and, in her words, it’s “crappy insurance.” I know– everyone knows– she is not alone. So I don’t know how a strike over having to pay for a reasonably priced and robust insurance program is going to go over in the press.
  • Begin tangent:The real problem here, of course, is health care in this country across the board. When you have such “far out liberal” groups like General Motors saying that the federal government needs to do something about health care, not to mention all of the gazillion of other problems with health care in this country, it becomes clear that this is a much MUCH bigger problem than what’s going on in the contract talks. It turns out that when Clinton said in the early 90’s that there was a crisis coming in health care, he was right. /tangent
  • The union’s argument against putting everyone into one health care plan (namely, the PPO) is, basically, this could give the administration at some future date to jack up the premiums, screw us over, etc. Personally, I think this is kind of paranoid and also not realistic since if the adminstration did try to screw over the faculty on the one insurance plan, we’d protest it in contract negotiations. I also personally think this is kind of an irrelevant because the overwhelming majority of faculty at EMU are in the PPO, and the PPO is very good insurance.
  • There’s apparently some provision with the administration’s proposal for prescription drugs that you are required to order “maintenance” drugs (which I think is defined as anything you get for more than 90 days– for me, that’d be allergy medicine) through some sort of mail order scheme. On the one hand, if this is the administration’s position, this “mandatory” use of a mail order pharmacy, that’s kind of obnoxious. On the other hand, it probably would save everyone money.
  • Another tangent: There are other things that the administration and the union might be able to agree on that would save money for everyone, things that ought to be either encouraged or required. For example, if there was a plan where you could set aside a certain amount of money pre-tax for medical expenses and if you could get any surplus back or carried over to the next year, that’d be a good deal. As it is, there’s a plan that my family ought to be involved in that pays for things pre-tax (but without getting the surplus or carry-over). /tangent
  • The eye care plan isn’t great in the current insurance (I think that’s pretty common). Fortunately, the dental care is great and it doesn’t look like anyone wants to change that.

Also on this web site is an excel spreadsheet that Bunsis invites faculty to fill out to see how much the administration’s proposed changes will cost them. Fair enough, though the formula is in some ways very complicated/impossible to figure out collectively. Everyone has different circumstances. While the new plan might cost me, it wouldn’t cost my wife (also an EMU faculty member) since she’s covered by my insurance. If I were a single person in the reasonably good health I’m in, this plan wouldn’t cost me much at all; if I were older with health problems, this plan would cost me more. Of course, this is the case with pretty much any health care plan (which gets us back to the need for a federal plan).

So, for example, when I filled this out this spreadsheet, I came up with an estimated of 2.5% of my salary for the administration’s proposed plan. As a family though, we’d probably take a hit of less than 2% overall. I’m not sure. Oh, and keep in mind too that the hit depends entirely on one’s salary, and no one is talking about prorating this so that faculty who make less money are going to pay the same percentage of their salary as those who make more money.

Anyway, it seems to me that what this all means just depends on what else happens with the contract. The administration could offer the faculty enough money to cover the insurance with a modest raise– say 4.5% or so. They could offer faculty another percentage on TIAA-CREF, which would be a lot more money in the long-run than a percentage on this contract. They could sweeten the deal for promotions. And so forth.

We shall see– or rather, I am hoping that other folks at EMU will see and that this will be settled by the time I’m back from Europe. Somehow I doubt it.

4 thoughts on “One for the road: EMU-AAUP and Healthcare”

  1. Kudos to Bunsis and others for putting together the spreadsheet that shows exactly how much the health care proposals would cost each of us. Bunsis has an excellent 50+ page PDF explaining in vast detail the costs of health care.

    There are some other items that the parties should be able to agree upon, and one of them is spousal coverage. The university could save money (maybe to be spent on raises or classroom AC?) by requiring that spousal coverage come FIRST from the spouse’s employer’s plan if the spouse is employed. That way the non-EMU employer would be on the hook for the first $$$, and EMU’s plan would pay the last $$$ of coverage, without ANY ADDITIONAL COST to the faculty member.

    Also, I think a lot of older faculty who are in the HMO or the traditional plan are there because of inertia, not fear of losing (translation: paying more for) out-of-network doctors. Both of those plans cost the university more than the PPO (again, money that could be spent on raises or AC). The 100 or so who haven’t moved might cause a strike on grounds of “Keep our Health Choices”, and it would be a shame if the cause of just a few of us led to a strike or a poorer contract for the rest of us.

  2. The only problem with that idea, about the spouse picking up the insurance tab, is that our insurance is really really good, and what such a plan might cause is for a lot of people who work at EMU to take an inferior plan. Maybe what they should say is that the employee’s own insurance is free, but then it starts to cost something with every dependent added, spouses/partners included.

    And I have absolutely nothing but good things to say about the PPO. While my wife and I didn’t have doctors that we absolutely had to keep, we did have a pediatrician for our son we didn’t want to lose and we didn’t have to. In fact, the PPO allows us to use services at both St. Joe’s and at U of M, something our previous insurance (MCARE) didn’t allow. I would really recommend checking out the PPO; being “forced” into it might not be as bad as you might think.

  3. Three comments:
    –There are HUGE risks with the mail-order drug plan. We simply will not be able to be sure we are getting the right meds. It is important to have a good, local pharmacist if you have chronic illnesses.

    — I’ve used the PPO since it was started, without problem. Our doctors are in Monroe County and in Toledo and we’ve been able to keep them all.

    — I spent part of this month volunteering at the Monroe County Fair, where I overheard more than one conversation about the costs other people pay for health care. It is NOTHING for families to pay $650 or more per month for really crappy plans. And anyone who changes jobs risks being uninsurable because of pre-existing conditions. These people were autoworkers, private school teachers, farmers, and bus drivers, as well as *really* small business owners. I went home feeling thankful (again) for our health benefits.
    I cannot imagine striking over being asked to contribute $1,500 a year toward health care for a family. Anyone who thinks we’d get support from our students/their families/the larger community for such action is very much out of touch. Let’s stop talking just to each other. Talk to your neighbors.

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