Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
  Finally! A Conversation with Facts!
From the comment section, School Committee Member John Hockridge gives us another perspective on the GIC debate:
First let it be clear that what I say here, I speak for myself, not the North Adams School Committee. And the school district does not have a part in this negotiation. It is a city negotiation with all employee unions.

Here are some things I know and/or have been told about the GIC issue.

· The unions have attached to the GIC implementation proposal an increase in the city’s share of the health premium coverage from 70% to 85%. As I understand it, much of the $1.5 million dollar cost savings advertised for the unions is due to this I do not believe the city would share in this advertised $1.5 million cost savings if its share would increase to 85%. I do not think you’ll see the city negotiate unless the share stays at 70/30 – especially with the impending 5-10% cut in state aid to local cities and towns next year.
· I am told (by others outside the city), but have not verified, that out-of-pocket expenses with the GIC (prescription, emergency care co-pays, etc) are considerably higher than Blue Cross Blue Shield.
· I attended the 2008 Mass Association of School Committees Conference in Hyannis last month, including an insurance workshop, presented by a highly respected superintendent of schools from the eastern part of the state who has been able to control his school employee insurance premiums to nearly no increase in the past three years (mostly through wellness initiatives). It was said in that workshop that the GIC does not have a wellness plan built into the health insurance offering. 80% of increased insurance premiums are due to insurance claims (per this presenter). It is his belief that the GIC will be a “huge white elephant” for the participating municipalities in the commonwealth 5 to 10 years down the road, with rapidly escalating costs (and he has relayed that opinion to Tim Murray, Lt. Gov).
· Boston Benefits Partners, the North Adams unions’ consultants, are directly associated with the GIC, both in consultants previously employed by the GIC and in doing consulting work for the GIC currently (this information you can get online). This does not mean their information is incorrect, but does question their motivation. I don’t know how all the insurance premium comparative costs shake out. But it would be wise for any negotiations or further discussion of the GIC to use a different consulting resource.

The first point (premium share) is likely the primary issue from the city’s standpoint. The third point (the forecasted “white elephant”) should be of most concern to all parties considering the GIC. Personally, I would rather see the focus be on a well thought-out wellness plan that encourages prolonged good health and results in greatly reducing claims – which would translate in most importantly improving the health of the individuals but also in keeping health costs much more under control. Given the health cost burden on everyone today, I would think the city and the unions efforts would be better served working together on this very important issue.
My big question is what would the cost of increasing the city's share of the premium be? Would it be a net gain or break even proposition for the city. That knowledge would settle the question for a lot of people.

As far as what the GIC will look like in the next decade, I tend to think that healthcare as a whole will look incredibly different. I am not sure that health insurance as we know it will even exist. For this reason I am hesitant to forecast costs out more than a couple of years.

Also, as far as the alleged flaws in the analysis by Boston Benefit Partners, where do the inconsistencies lie? I assume that the analysis contains an estimate as to which plans will be selected by the insured. Is there something about North Adams employees that makes them more likely to pick the expensive plans than others throughout the state?

And most of all, thank you, John! I truly appreciate your willingness to engage in this discussion.
I, too, would like to thank John for coming to the discussion with some clarification on this topic. But as I have been following this story what really interests me isn't the benefits (or not) of the insurance plan. What I would like to know is why does it have to go down like this? Whenever there is a point of contention between a group and City Hall the process of "discussion" always seems to take on the tenor of a schoolyard fight. John listed reasons for one side of the argument. Why wasn't that done, in an equally civil manner, well before this? Why do we have contrasting stories of a "confrontation" at City Hall? Why did we have a confrontation in the first place?
And really, above all, why did not one local news outlet (outside of iBerkshires) print the story of the unions' complaints against the Mayor? Wouldn't that be, oh I don't know, local news? I learned of it on
The merits of the health plan can and should be discussed and the best course of action for everyone should be the logical outcome, whatever side prevails. Can't we, just once, do it without looking like bullies?
Eric has legibly outlined what I was trying to say in my other posts. It seems what troubles most people is not that the Mayor wants one plan and the unions want another. But more why can't City Hall and (insert your group here) ever resolve issues without all the posturing?
A back of the envelope calculation on the savings to the city if the premium share went from 70% to 85% is still $300,000+ of the $1.5 million.

What about negotiating an 80% or so? Would that would make the figure around $400K.

Neither of those figures are chump change.
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