State, SEA quibble over cost of deductible
A negotiator for the state quibbled yesterday with this week’s statement from the State Employees’ Association that workers can’t immediately afford a new health insurance deductible included in a proposed two-year contract.
Matthew Newland, manager of employee relations for the state, said employees could recover the proposed $500 deductible for individuals by taking advantage of several health promotions that pay workers $500 annually.
The two sides have been unable to agree on a contract largely because they disagree over when the proposed deductible should kick in. They declared an impasse this week and are now looking for a mediator. The SEA represents approximately 7,500 workers.
Yesterday, SEA spokeswoman Beth D’Ovido disagreed with Newland, saying the deductible and payments for health promotions can’t be connected. “They are apples and oranges,” she said.
The state wants the deductible – $500 for individuals and $750 for families – to begin in January and increase to $1,000 for families in 2015.
The SEA wants the deductible to begin a year later, after employees have received two of the three raises contemplated in the two-year contract. Diana Lacey, union president, told the Monitor on Thursday that the first two raises of 1.5 percent and 2.25 percent won’t increase most employees’ salaries enough to cover the new deductibles.
Two other unions representing state workers have already agreed to the same contract terms. Asked yesterday about those negotiations, Newland responded by email.
“In negotiations with the (New England Police Benevolent Association) and the Teamsters, we agreed that a healthy workforce is a happy workforce,” Newland wrote. “So, we reached a mutually beneficial solution by giving employees an opportunity to offset the deductible by engaging in wellness activities like getting a physical, flu shot and/or biometrics screening among others.”
Under those contracts and the one being discussed now with the SEA, employees can earn up to $300 annually for doing three of those “wellness activities.” Newland said those visits, whether it be a flu shot or a physical, are free to the employees. Employees can use that money for health care visits or other expenses not related to health care.
Employees can earn an additional $200 annually by answering a lengthy health questionnaire. That benefit is in the existing contract, and that money can be used only for health care visits. Calls to negotiators for the Teamsters and the New England Police Benevolent Association were not returned yesterday. But both unions ratified the contract quickly.
Employees can also continue to save on health care costs by using providers approved by the state because their costs are lower.
“An added benefit is that when employees are healthy the use of sick time should decline,” Newland wrote. “We want our employees to be healthy and happy. When someone calls in sick, it impacts those at work who have to cover for them. It is better for everyone to get and stay healthy.”
D’Ovido said yesterday the deductible and the health promotion payments are “not a wash.”
She added, “If that was true, if it were a wash, we wouldn’t be arguing over it.”
D’Ovidio said the $200 payment already in the existing contract has not delivered the benefits promised. The $200 is put on a debit-like card that can be used at doctors’ office to cover co-pays and the proposed deductible.
“This particular year, we had nothing but complaints,” D’Ovido said. “There was quite a bit of time when that particular option didn’t work. When we made phone calls to see what we could do, we couldn’t get any headway.”
Asked what problems employees were experiencing, D’Ovido said she did not have specifics. Newland said there were a few instances of problems with the program at the start of the year but that those glitches were fixed. He said nearly 5,000 employees had used the $200 benefit as of May 31.
D’Ovido also did not offer specifics on why the SEA disagrees with the state’s philosophy that the $300 an employee can earn from getting flu shots and physicals helps compensate for the deductible.
“We don’t see it as connected,” she said. “We don’t see the relevancy.”
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323,
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)