Mulgrew’s Healthcare Presentation was Bologna – Here’s an Analysis

At this week’s DA, Michael Mulgrew put forth a used car salesman pitch  presentation about why our healthcare is about to change. His speech itself is in my minutes, and the PowerPoint that displayed behind him can be found here. There wasn’t much new here, and my most recent article on healthcare changes, which has apparently been read over 15,000 times, is still as relevant post-presentation as it was pre. That’s the article I recommend if you’re looking for materials to distribute to your chapter (a printable version can be found at the end).

Nevertheless, a new article is needed to address a few of the claims made both in Mulgrew’s talking points and in the presentation that was playing behind him. In this post, I’ll work through some analysis of some of the major Unity claims:

  1. False Claim #1: Healthcare changes are inevitable because of rising costs; the UFT could just ‘let the worst changes happen’ and blame the City, but instead is doing something ‘no union has ever done before’ and is working with the City to get UFT members the best case scenario. Mulgrew is correct that healthcare costs are going up, but he greatly diminishes his own responsibility in manufacturing this healthcare crisis. We are in debt to the City, because Mulgrew had the masterful idea to promise billions in healthcare givebacks in exchange for a few years’ worth of cost-of-living adjustments. He did so without our informed consent, using his usual tactic of giving no time for delegates to read or analyze agreements before forcing through a vote. Ironically, the debt is coming due now, when we’re on a new contract – one which did not get us raises anywhere close to inflation. An inflation adjusted pay cut means that these healthcare cuts are going to hurt even worse. While Mulgrew conveniently states that NYC is rare in having premium free healthcare, he conveniently compares us to non-unionized work forces or to workforces with similarly unmilitant unions. We just saw a plethora of unions on the west coast, such as UTLA, get double our raises with no reduction to their healthcare benefits. Their secret? They aren’t afraid to strike. In other words, if instead of working with the City to shrink our benefits we fought the City to prevent them from shrinking them themselves, we’d be far better off. As Mulgrew has said time and time again, Adams is misconstruing the financial situation of NYC – there’s plenty of money to be used on our healthcare; our union leadership just doesn’t have the guts to fight for it. Indeed, the ‘genius’ of the plan to work with the City to realize cuts was undercut by Mulgrew himself, when he admitted that the current administration is not working well with the MLC to change our healthcare – and only appears to be in it for the cost savings. Go figure. Maybe we should have fought them instead?
  2. False Claim #2: We will only choose a health plan if it is as good or better than what we currently have. This is fundamentally impossible. What is conveniently omitted from Mulgrew’s presentation is that our Request for Proposals (RFP) is seeking 10% cost-reductions in our plans. Those cost reductions aren’t for us – indeed we may end up paying higher copays, premiums, or losing care in order to get that 10% reduction for the organizations seeking these cuts. And yes, one of those organizations is the City; as Mulgrew made clear yesterday, these cuts are not just to make more money available for the UFT welfare fund (prescriptions, eyeglasses, etc). The City is looking to make money as well. One of the ways we know for sure that we won’t be on a ‘better’ plan is that Mulgrew admits we may lose providers. For anyone who has ever had a major medical situation (a chronic condition or an upcoming surgery) and lost their specialist or surgeon; they know this can cause irreparable harm to UFT members.
  3. False Claim #3: One place we are seeking improvements is mental health. Look, I don’t doubt that this is somehow on the agenda somewhere. But it’s unlikely to work. Why? Because Emblem, UnitedHealthcare, and Aetna – the finalist companies – all performed terribly on a recent mental health audit, indicating that 85% of providers listed are actually ‘ghost networks’ who don’t provide services to our members. Gee, we’re really going to fix this problem by going to Aetna (which failed the audit) or a 10% discount version of GHI (when Emblem also failed the audit).
  4. False Claim #4: Our UFT Welfare Fund is the best in the country. Arthur Goldstein wrote a good piece debunking this, so I’ll leave you to his link. The only thing I’d add is Mulgrew likely made this point to justify why UFT is against merging welfare funds to save money. That’s right – we could get healthcare savings by just merging the welfare funds of different unions, but that would screw up Unity’s patronage mill.
  5. False Claim #5: The New York Health Act isn’t the best solution to our healthcare woes. This wasn’t a claim Mulgrew made yesterday. Indeed, I think one reason he didn’t call on opposition was because he knew we might point out things like that the UFT has twice voted in support of the NYHA but Mulgrew refuses to follow that order. But, as many people have noticed, Mulgrew actually made the case that for-profit healthcare is the problem. NYHA would solve all these issues without us taking cuts to our healthcare, so why isn’t Mulgrew just doing as the DA ordered and fighting to get that legislation passed?
  6. False Claim #6: The DA is the highest decision-making body in the UFT. As point 5 indicated, we can pass all the resolutions we want; Mulgrew will still find a way to get around them if he disagrees. Moreover, none of us are getting a vote on this – none of us. Mulgrew is going to cut our healthcare, alongside other members of the MLC, without giving any of us a vote.

That’s where our petition comes in. We already have about 10,000 signatures but need about double that to get a referendum to force a vote before the UFT makes major healthcare changes. Think you should be consulted before you are thrown off GHI-CBP and onto Aetna or some 10% discount version of GHI-United? Then make sure you and everyone in your chapter signs this petition.

Nick Bacon is a co-chairperson at New Action Caucus. He is also an elected member of the UFT executive board

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