UFT/MLC to Greenlight MAP Nuclear Option

Medicare Advantage has arrived in New York, handing over eviction papers to traditional Medicare in the process. UFT bureaucrats are already informing retired members that the plan is imminent. By September, 2023, barring a win from opposition, it’s all but certain that UFT retirees will be ripped off of GHI Senior Care and thrown onto Aetna’s privatized MAP plan. Here are the plan details. Here is a somewhat sugar-coated comparison with Senior Care (it doesn’t even mention prior authorizations). And here is the same thing but for the prescription rider.

All that is left is for the papers to be signed. The MLC vote is scheduled for March 9, the same day as New Action’s own meeting. But, there is little UFT members can do to stop what is in motion, (except, of course, in our ‘rogue’ organizations), as Mulgrew has made it clear that neither retirees nor in-service members will have a say in how he votes. Indeed, sources suggest that he is steamrolling the plan through MLC steering, forcing the vote to happen before other union leaders have their questions answered.

Nevertheless, Mulgrew will need to do two seemingly contradictory things to retain a semblance of consent from membership as he attempts to obliterate our healthcare: (1) sell MAP as equal to or ‘better’ than traditional Medicare; and (2) blame others for its implementation, particularly as the only available retiree healthcare plan (other than HIP VIP – another MAP plan).

The Sell Job

While the so-called ‘Coney Plan’ is a slight improvement over what we would have seen in the last go-around, it does nothing to address the more major concerns of municipal workers and retirees. There are still prior authorizations, copays, more limited networks, and the nagging problem of participating in the privatization/destruction of a public good for short term gain. To make the pill easier to swallow, some of the costs in the plan (like the deductible) are temporarily waived and some prices (e.g. the prescription drug plan) are cheaper in 2023 than in 2024. Perks galore are also mentioned on page 5 of the comparison chart to sweeten the deal. Some of the perks, like the fitness benefit, I don’t see swaying retirees. But a few, like hearing aid reimbursement, unspecified meals after hospital stays, some transportation benefits, and an OTC allowance stand out. These perks, of course, can only be offered because of the profits Aetna will make on the administrative end – namely denying care through pre-authorizations.

Mulgrew will also need to skate over much of the uncertainty in the plan. The contract expires in December of 2028, and there’s no telling what we’ll get in 2029. In the interim, only time will tell how many doctors opt out as providers. One thing is certain: by the time Tier 6ers retire, and traditional Medicare is but a distant memory with which private insurance no longer has to compete, we are likely to have few if any perks, higher costs, and extremely reduced networks.

The Blame Job

Over the next few weeks, Mulgrew and co. will likely blame ‘a judge’s ruling,’ an arbitrator, and/or the myopia of progressive opposition for the complete elimination of Senior Care as an option. That’s all bunk.

  • Judge Lyle Frank’s ruling does nothing to reduce collective bargaining rights, as Mulgrew has claimed. Here’s a line directly from that decision: “As the municipal labor unions are the entities that enter into collective bargaining agreements, those unions, through the umbrella Municipal Labor Council may amend those agreements….” Indeed, in the Aetna plan overview that right is stated explicitly: “Any change to agreed-upon benefits, including the termination of this Contract, is subject to collective bargaining.”
  • Arbitrator Martin Scheinman never issued an arbitration decision. By Mulgrew’s own admission, he delivered a mere recommendation without any binding authority.
  • When Michael Mulgrew decided to start coming after our healthcare, the progressive opposition joined retirees and mobilized. We successfully stopped the City Council from voting to amend Administrative Code 12-126, preserving the HIP benchmark. Had the Code been amended, the City and MLC could have wreaked even further havoc on retiree and in-service healthcare, especially for lower income members who don’t have the same access to pay-up plans.

In fact, the fault lies squarely with UFT leadership, DC37 leadership, and a few other labor leaders in the MLC. The truth is this: in 2018, Michael Mulgrew rushed out a contract with dangerous givebacks, lying to members that there weren’t any. The most dangerous giveback? That somehow, in a time of record healthcare inflation, we would find a way to save $600 million annually on healthcare. Medicare Advantage is one of many ways that Mulgrew plans to deliver on that debt. Using precisely his right to speak for us in collective bargaining with the City, he’s going ahead with the nuclear option to pay the City what we owe.

A Final Point – the Contract

Mulgrew keeps saying that healthcare isn’t a part of the current contract negotiations. As I pointed out last week, this is nonsense. ‘Settling healthcare’ was the only way the City would sit down with labor unions to negotiate contracts. Not only is Medicare Advantage clearly a consequence of and prerequisite to collective bargaining, it is part of a larger deal which includes sub-inflation wage increases below the mostly non-unionized U.S. average. Healthcare for in-service members is also due for worrisome changes in cost savings, which could include service changes or increased costs borne by employees. This is all unacceptable. As rank-and-file members are threatened with lawsuits by their own UFT leadership for having the audacity to organize for more, our union officers merely manage decline.

What will we give back next? And what will opposition–who has successfully quashed Mulgrew’s healthcare givebacks before–do to stop him? For starters, Retiree Advocate and CROC have emergency meetings and mobilizations next week (Monday and Thursday afternoons; details here.) Please also join New Action on Thursday evening to discuss next steps. With our union leadership working against us, it’s up to us to fight back.


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