Union workers rally against health care changes at the U

UMN rally

Union clerical workers at the University of Minnesota rallied on Northrop Plaza today to protest proposed rate increases to their employee health care plans.

About 200 people gathering in front of Morrill Hall, the main administration building — some carrying signs saying, “Stop cost shifting to employees” and “Wal-Mart U / Rolling Back Benefits.”

They opposed a move the union says will save the U $1.8 million by, among other things, forcing employees to pay higher insurance premiums, copays and deductibles. Many of those, they say, are employees who can afford it the least.

“Frontline staff, who make low wages — wages under market — and employees who have chronic health concerns are going to bear the brunt,” said Cherrene Horazuk, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800.

Instead, they say,  the U should institute a plan that uses a sliding scale based on an employee’s income. Such a plan is in effect at some other universities as well as private companies, she said.

A university spokeswoman issued the following statement by email:

“The University’s goals are to recruit and retain top talent and we offer a strong total compensation package. Our health plan is a high quality, affordable plan with choice, and we strive to minimize the impact of potential changes on those employees with serious and chronic health conditions.”

UMN rally

Horazuk could not say just how much the increases will cost the average worker at the U. She said the union has asked the U for data necessary to make the calculations, but that campus officials have not provided it.

She estimated today that an employee who went to the doctor three times a month would pay an extra $50 a month — or $600 a year — not including a $100 deductible. Horazuk said such a scenario is possible for a family of four, and that “numerous” members have told her their household makes several medical visits each month.

As examples of cost increases, union officials mentioned copay increases from $15 to $25 for primary care — $40 for specialists — and a first-time deductible of $100 per employee and $200 for families on the base plan.

“That’s pretty significant for people on the lower end of the wage scale,” she said.

Horazuk said members have reported cutting back on health care even before the proposed increase:

“…People who have cut their medications in half, people who have stopped taking medications, one woman who did not schedule a follow-up visit with her oncologist because she couldn’t afford the copay.”

The union says the current health-care plan at the U is unfair toward lower-paid workers, because they pay the same for their plans as higher-paid employees do for theirs.

Under the sliding-scale plan proposed by the union, Horazuk said, union employees would pay a third less. Employees making $250,000, for example, would pay more than four times what they pay now.

“Those employees who make more at the university have a better ability to pay for their health insurance costs,” she said.

A university spokeswoman said the health-care cost increases stem from the Affordable Care Act:

The new federal health care reform law, called the Affordable Care Act (ACA), will have an impact on UPlan offerings, as outlined in a memo from Kathy Brown to all employees on July 17. We have also created a new ACA toolkit on the benefits website www.umn.edu/ohr/benefits with helpful general information about the ACA and how it will impact employees and their families.

Horazuk said federal policy is clouding the issue.

“The university is using the Affordable Health Care Act as an excuse to cost-shift $1.8 million onto employee’s backs. We don’t think it’s necessary. The state of Minnesota just negotiated a contract. The Affordable Care Act did not come up in those negotiations.”

Horazuk said the union will continue health-care negotiations with university officials tomorrow.