In July, President Dunn announced that BCBSM’s Healthy Blue Living HMO might be offered to WMU employees during open enrollment this fall, explaining that each employee group on campus would have the option to allow (or not allow) the administration to offer the new plan to its members.
In early September, the WMU-AAUP published an analysis in advance of the Association Council meeting scheduled for September 16, to help the faculty in our bargaining unit make an informed decision about whether to allow the HMO to be offered for 2017 alongside our existing plan. At the meeting, the Association Council decided that this question should be taken up by the full faculty at our fall chapter meeting, scheduled for October 14.
But a strong consensus also emerged among the Association Council reps on September 16 that by trying to oblige the faculty to participate in conversations and make decisions about our health benefits outside of scheduled bargaining, the administration was essentially attempting to engage the chapter in negotiations, in contravention of Article 45 of the Agreement, which the chapter had already invoked in April 2016. Article 45 is the agreement between the administration and the WMU-AAUP in which “each waives the right, and each agrees that the other shall not be obligated to bargain collectively with respect to any subject or matter referred to or covered by this Agreement.”
When we notified Dr. Warren Hills, WMU Chief Human Resources Officer, of these developments after the Association Council meeting, he responded that the administration would be “going forward with open enrollment for the bargaining units that have agreed and our benefits-eligible staff.”
We interpret this to mean that the administration has decided not to offer the HMO to WMU-AAUP faculty.
As WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick wrote on the chapter blog in July 2016:
The idea of adding a second plan, specifically one that lowers premium costs for employees, was proposed by another employee group on campus, the WMU chapter of AFSCME, whose bargaining unit includes maintenance, landscape, dining, custodial, and other service staff. The health insurance premiums assessed to individuals vary by employee group at WMU. As most faculty are aware, our group, the board-appointed faculty, pays the highest premiums, but what maybe a lot of faculty don’t know is that employees in groups whose median pay is lower than that of the faculty still face costs that are unacceptably high, especially for the two-person and family plans.
So I can understand why our AFSCME colleagues are fighting for more affordable health insurance for their membership. We join them in their ongoing attempts to reduce healthcare costs for all WMU employees, especially the lowest paid among us, as these costs have become increasingly burdensome in recent years.
But I am not as optimistic as President Dunn seems to be that this new plan is the answer.
As I have noted, board-appointed faculty already pay the highest insurance premiums of any employee group at WMU, a rate that is the same as what senior administrative officers pay, even though the median and mean salaries of that employee group are of course significantly greater than ours. One way to cut costs for lower-paid employees, then, might be to ask senior administrators to bear more of their share of the burden.
And it is probably worth noting that not all senior administrators are even paying the same premiums as faculty. For example, President Dunn’s premium is $0 for his two-person plan, compared to $3933 per year for faculty. Additionally, his retirement agreement guarantees continuing free coverage for himself and for Mrs. Dunn for the rest of their lives. (Faculty and staff retirees, by contrast, have seen their share of healthcare premiums spike in recent years.)
As we noted in our September analysis, we have serious reservations about the Healthy Blue Living HMO. While the premium equivalents for the HMO are lower than those for our current plan, the HMO has “wellness program” participation conditions attached to it that some faculty might find intrusive and/or burdensome. If these conditions are not met, deductibles are increased and coverage is decreased. Additionally, the full deductible must be met before HMO enrollees are eligible for coverage of office visits and nearly all other non-preventive medical and clinical care, meaning that you would pay 100% of the bill for non-preventive services and office visits until your deductible is met, potentially negating any savings from lower premiums. (See Table 1.)
Conversely, our current plan includes many services to which the deductible does not apply, and the deductible need not be met before we can access coverage for most office visits and services after copay. Our current plan also includes access to medical and clinical services at the Sindecuse Health Center on campus with zero out-of-pocket costs and a prescription drug discount at Sindecuse. These benefits would not be available to HMO enrollees, who would be responsible for all charges for medical and clinical services at Sindecuse and would pay retail prices for prescription drugs at the Sindecuse pharmacy. (See Table 2.)
Please refer to the full analysis for more information.
The chapter leadership and members of our 2014 bargaining team believe that there are better ways to reduce costs for faculty that do not involve the intrusive “wellness” requirements that are integral to the Healthy Blue Living HMO. We also question the ethics of an option that requires faculty to take chances with the health and wellbeing of their families by gambling on a plan that may include some savings in the short run but is not likely to be a good investment for anyone who might actually have to use their insurance.
These are among the reasons why the faculty expressed its nearly unanimous dissatisfaction at the chapter meeting in April 2016 with the prospect of major decisions about our healthcare being made outside of contract negotiations. The product of this dissatisfaction was passage of a resolution invoking the chapter’s rights under Article 45 of the Agreement, a position that the Association Council reaffirmed last month.
45.§1 AGREE AND ACKNOWLEDGE. The parties acknowledge that during the negotiations which resulted in this Agreement each had the unlimited right and opportunity to make demands and proposals with respect to any subject or matter not removed by law from the area of collective bargaining and that the understandings and agreements arrived at by the parties after the exercise of that right and opportunity are set forth in this Agreement. Therefore, Western and the Chapter, for the life of this Agreement, each waives the right, and each agrees that the other shall not be obligated to bargain collectively with respect to any subject or matter referred to or covered by this Agreement and with respect to any non-mandatory subject of bargaining not specifically referred to or covered in this Agreement, even though such subject may not have been within the knowledge and contemplation of either or both of the parties at the time that they negotiated or signed this Agreement.
We are looking forward to contract negotiations in 2017, at which time we will explore a variety of approaches to getting costs down for members of the WMU-AAUP bargaining unit.