Monday, May 10, 2021

EXECUTIVE BOARD REPORT BRINGS NEWS ON ERI, VACCINE MANDATES, MEDICARE PRIVATIZATION, MAYOR'S RACE AND MORE

Go over to NYC Educator and read tonight's Executive Board report from Arthur

Some highlights:

On Early Retirement Incentive:

DOE--When you're near the end of an administration things get weird. Primary in June has made it weirder. Admin wants to remain relevant, so city budget is a fight for us. Have not engaged in Early Retirement Incentive. 

On possible vaccine mandates for our members:

Moskowitz mandating vaccines, will we take a position?

Doctors who advise us say integrity of these vaccines is unprecedented. I get emails on both sides. People need to think this through. If we don't hit 70%, this will be around for years. Will be no medical accommodation based on people not wanting to be vaccinated. Not medical condition. 

Mayor's race:

Mayor's race shaping into three person race. Stringer has allegations against him, but most unions who've endorsed have stuck. Allegations are allegations. Our group that first endorsed says we should continue.

Never thought we'd go back to Bloomberg days. Yang isn't billionaire, but is tied with this group. Adams is tied with Students First. We will get word out.

On Medicare privatization:

Health care updates? 

Mulgrew--Mediator at MLC cannot go forward because our questions haven't been answered. 

Read the whole report.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

ONE YEAR SINCE CHAZ PASSING

I was reminded the other night by Lydia Howrilka and Jonathan Halabi that it has been one year since Eric Chaz Chasanoff passed away.

Tonight is a good time to copy Jonathan Halabi's tribute to Eric over at JD2718. It is well worth reading. Eric and I used to talk regularly about our blogs. I think Jonathan captures the essence of what Eric was all about here. At the end, Jonathan notes how Eric always endorsed him in UFT elections.

Here is what Chaz said about my wife and me in his 2013 election endorsement: (note we are no longer in MORE).

Treasurer:  Camille Eterno - MORE  Mel Aaronson was a very effective Treasurer but has been long retired.  I want an active teacher who understands the present day realities of the classroom to handle my money.  Being married to James tells me she is a good decision maker.

Executive Board: - High School -

Jonathan Halabi -  New Action/Unity  He really tries and has been a dissenting voice in the past.

James Eterno - MORE - The best there was, the best there is, and the best there ever will be.

Okay, I probably should not have looked that up but you do understand we respected each other greatly. Rest in peace, Eric.

Jonathan Halabi's tribute to Chaz:

Eric “Chaz” Chasanoff was one of the best-known New York City teacher bloggers. He was an exceptional advocate for teachers, and a opponent of arbitrary and unfair policies.

policies.

Eric wrote regularly for well over a decade. He started in 2006. And he didn’t stop, until COVID stopped him.

During the pandemic he was writing every two or three days. On April 26 he wrote about reducing administrative costs, and not school budgets. And then… Silence. On May 2 I wrote to him. He was already sick, and did not respond. I didn’t know. I wrote to other bloggers, to his UFT borough office. And then we learned.

Eric was a weatherman – on TV – before he was a teacher. He became an earth science teacher. Earth Science Eric. Read here as James Eterno, his UFT Chapter Leader at Jamaica HS, talks about Eric.

Eric wrote about teacher issues. He wrote about teacher financial issues – pension, TDA. He wrote about problem schools, and problem administrators. He wrote about good work the UFT did, and he wrote about serious problems with the UFT.

Eric was independent, and fiercely so. He belonged to no caucus. Every election he endorsed people from each caucus, including some from Unity. I am proud that each time I ran, he endorsed me.

Eric was not a leftist, as some critics of the UFT leadership are. His views tended to be a bit left of center, but they varied, issue to issue. In the last presidential election he lived through, he did not vote for Donald Trump or for Hillary Clinton. I believe, had he lived, he would not have voted in 2020 for Trump or for Biden.

Eric’s most consistent “politics” were those of fairness. He advocated for fair treatment, again and again, for teachers who the system abused. The system abused Eric, too. Read here as NYC Educator Arthur Goldstein stands up for Eric against twisted charges (this is from 2012).

After that, the NYCDoE put Eric, a highly qualified teacher, in excess. They made him what is often called an “ATR” -forcing him to wander from school to school. But for Eric, that gave him more experience to write about, and more people being victimized by bad administrators or by the system to support.

And that’s what he did. He taught. He advocated. He wrote. He wrote after he retired. And he wrote until one week before his death.

He was missed, immediately. Many bloggers wrote of his passing. I didTwiceEric’s memorial page on the “UFT Honors” site is full of tribute.

I will close this post with what I shared on that page:

Eric wrote on his blog Chaz’s School Daze almost two thousand times. Most of his readers, and he had many, did not know his name. He was not writing for recognition, or promotion. He wrote because he cared deeply. He cared about students and schools. He cared about teachers, especially about teachers. And most of all, Eric cared deeply about right and wrong.

I was trying to think of one example that really stood out. And I looked at Eric’s early writings, about politics and teaching and the value of experience – but the one that caught my eye – in his first month on-line – was about a girl’s basketball game. One team’s coach had run up the score badly on a weaker opponent, 137 – 24. Eric, who had coached, was horrified:

  • * Don’t run up the score on an inferior opponent.
  • * Keep your best players out once it is a blowout.
  • * Never embarrass another team.
  • * Show class and be a role model for your players.

It was that same sense of right and wrong that motivated his defense of teachers. And it is that sense of class, and that dedication to fairness that I will remember.

Rest in peace

Saturday, May 08, 2021

EDUCATORS OF NYC FORUM ON WHAT SCHOOL REOPENING SHOULD LOOK LIKE IS TUESDAY @ 7:00

Don't miss the Educators of NYC forum on school reopening is coming on Tuesday. Representatives from the various UFT caucuses along with community leaders will be on the Zoom. This is the kind of conversation the UFT should be having.

Here is a link to sign up for the event.


The panelists are  some real top flight thinkers in NYC education.





Friday, May 07, 2021

SUCCESS ACADEMY MANDATING COVID VACCINES FOR EMPLOYEES; WILL NYC BE NEXT?

 This came from Success Academy to their employees.


What will NYC be doing on this issue for their employees? There is a piece in the latest Chief Leader civil service newspaper on vaccinating city employees. Thanks to John Lawhead for forwarding it to me to beat the paywall. The first two paragraphs: 

For months the de Blasio administration has resisted forcing public employees to get the coronavirus vaccination even as Governor Cuomo threatened to withhold future doses from the city hospital system.

But Dr. Jay Varma, Mayor de Blasio's top virus adviser, April 29 indicated the city's patience was ebbing, particularly regarding health-care workers, citing a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on a nursing home in Kentucky where unvaccinated staff were determined to be the source of dozens of infections and two deaths.

We posted last week on how mandatory vaccinations for staff and students in NYC public schools might be very popular with parents and teachers. The legality of any kind of vaccine mandate is a gray area now because of the Emergency Use Authorization of the vaccines. They did not yet go through the regular FDA approval process, but mass vaccinations seem to be the way to get this pandemic under control. 

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

MEDICARE OR MULGREWCARE?

We predicted how yesterday's UFT Retiree Town Hall would function.

This is what this blog said on Monday:

UFT Town Halls in the age of COVID-19 are basically like call-in radio shows. President Mulgrew gives a lengthy monologue saying whatever the UFT is doing at the present time is the greatest thing ever and then some screened questions are allowed. The questions usually start with something like: "Hi Michael, thank you for the wonderful, amazing job you are doing..." My wife and some friends have tried to get through and have never had a challenging question answered live by Mulgrew

We were almost completely on target. Yesterday at the Town Hall for Retirees, Mulgrew gave a long speech saying how switching from traditional Medicare to the Municipal Labor Committee's Medicare Advantage would be the greatest healthcare system in the country. We're calling the privatized system that could be coming soon "Mulgrewcare" although all Medicare-eligible NYC municipal retirees, not just UFTers, will be part of the program if it goes through. 

The Mulgrewcare pledge: Under Mulgrewcare, retired city employees are being promised the same or better health benefits at the same price as now with the same reimbursements for Part B. Better still, the savings we get from this privatized benefits program would come back to us through the health stabilization fund. Whatever insurance provider that wins the contract will get more money from the federal government only if we consumers are satisfied. Does this sound too good to be true?

After Mulgrew finished selling the program, there were the softball questions coming one after another. I was not entirely correct in my forecast, however, as one rather difficult query did get through that of course Mulgrew could not adequately answer.

Bennett Fisher asked: What is to stop doctors who do currently take traditional Medicare from not accepting this plan at their discretion?

Mulgrew Answer: The fact is most doctors accept Medicare because there are federal and state incentives for them. That would be a problem even if we stay in our same plan. If something like that were ever to occur, if it is on a small scale, we would use all of our abilities and whatever companies we are working with to get that fixed. If it is a large scale, then it becomes a legislative issue at a state or federal level.

Mulgrew offered no guarantee that doctors will take Mulgrewcare.

This is from eHealth:

Medicare Advantage plan networks must include hospitals, dialysis centers, primary care physicians, specialists, and other health-care professionals and suppliers.

However, Medicare Advantage plans don’t have to contract with every Medicare provider in their area. Instead, they contract with Medicare providers who agree to coordinating patient care, improving the quality of patient care, and accepting the Medicare Advantage plan’s reimbursement schedules and administrative rules.

To be fair, my guess is Mulgrew will be right for the majority of NYC retirees since 250,000 city retirees is such a large pool of patients so most doctors would continue to take the city's privatized Mugrewcare. However, if doctors are receiving less of a reimbursement or slower payments from the privatized insurer, who knows? There is no certainty.  

As for the long term, I would still like my two questions from yesterday answered:

Medicare Advantage or part C is privately run healthcare. If 250,000 NYC retirees go from a public into a privatized program, don't we run the risk of weakening traditional Medicare significantly which will make it less likely that we will get Medicare for all in the long run which is what we should be striving for and that is the only way to really control prices?

Also, I may have attempted to sneak this in:

How are we going to be opposed to privatizing schools (charters-vouchers) when we are privatizing our own healthcare?

If 250,000 city retirees are strengthening the current United States privately run healthcare system that Mulgrew conceded is out of control in terms of costs, then Mulgrewcare is bound to fail in the long run. One retiree I spoke to today said he recommends that people buy health insurance company stocks. Insurance companies will be the big winners if 250,000 NYC retirees are pushed into privatized Mulgrewcare.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

2021-2022 NYC CALENDAR RELEASED WITH CONTROVERSY OVER DELETION OF COLUMBUS DAY

The NYC Department of Education released the new school calendar today for the 2021-2022 school year. It looks like school will be starting almost a week later because Rosh Hashanah starts on the night of Labor Day so teachers need not report until Thursday, September 9, 2021, and school will not start for the kids until Monday, September 13. Snow days are now asynchronous learning days so forget about them.

This is not the controversial part. One million Italian-Americans in NYC were not consulted about the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day on the calendar. I am not going to go through the entire historical judgement on Columbus here. That is way beyond the scope of this posting. Let's just say if you judge him in the context of the 15th and 16th centuries, he comes out a bit better than if you use today's standards. (This may come as a shock to some of you, but I never taught from the perspective that just about everything the United States and Western culture have done has been for some nefarious purpose.) On the issue of the DOE calendar, the fact is many Italian Americans are not happy that Columbus Day was eliminated as a holiday. It is still recognized as a New York state official holiday.  

From ABC 7:

There are also two changes in the observed holidays this year. First, the non-attendance day on October 11, 2021, will be in observance of Indigenous Peoples' Day, with Columbus Day removed from the calendar.

That decision was quickly blasted by Republican lawmakers.

City Council members Joe Borelli and Steve Matteo and Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis issued a joint statement demanding the Department of Education restore the name "Columbus Day" to the holiday, claiming it was removed without any public announcement or fanfare.

Further down:

In response, the DOE updated its calendar to celebrate October 11 as Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People's Day.

"Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People's Day will celebrate the contributions and legacies of Italian Americans and recognize that Native people are the first inhabitants of the land that became our country," the DOE said in a statement. "By including these holidays on our calendar we are honoring the past, present, and future contributions of Indigenous communities and Italian Americans."

Maybe that will be enough to appease show respect for my fellow Italian-American brothers and sisters.


We'll have more information when we get it. Thanks to the people who sent the links. Note it is still Indigenous People's Day on this version. 


 

From Mulgrew


Dear __________,


I'm happy to report that the city Department of Education finally released the 2021-22 school calendar today. The holidays next school year make the calendar particularly challenging — especially with Labor Day falling immediately before Rosh Hashanah. But the final calendar still includes the minimum number of days to meet collective bargaining requirements and receive aid from New York State.


Here are some of the highlights:

  • Labor Day falls on Monday, Sept. 6, and schools are closed for Rosh Hashanah on Tuesday, Sept. 7, and Wednesday, Sept. 8. As is customary, all school-based staff will report to work without students for two days, on Thursday and Friday. The first day of classes for students is Monday, Sept. 13.
  • Schools will be closed on Yom Kippur on Thursday, Sept. 16.
  • Schools will be closed on Veterans Day on Thursday, Nov. 11.
  • Schools will be closed on Lunar New Year on Tuesday, Feb. 1.
  • The mid-winter recess will be from Monday, Feb. 21 to Friday, Feb. 25.
  • The spring break, which includes Good Friday and Passover, will be from Friday, April 15, to Friday, April 22.
  • Schools will be closed on Eid al-Fitr on Monday, May 2.
  • Schools will be closed for Juneteenth, a new public school holiday, on Monday, June 20.
  • Parent-teacher conferences will take place only in early November and in March.

See the 2021-22 school year calendar for staff »

This morning, we sent a text message linking to the family version of the 2021-22 school calendar. If you'd like to receive UFT text messages in the future, please use this online sign-up form.

New York City schools must, by state law, have 180 “aidable" days. This year’s calendar is at that minimum because of the late start of classes and the number of school holidays. This situation has produced some unusual features in the 2021-22 school year calendar:

  • The last day for students will be Monday, June 27, but the last day of work for classroom teachers, attendance teachers, school nurses, therapists, lab specialists and paraprofessionals will be Tuesday, June 28, as contractually required. It will be a Chancellor’s Conference Day. June 30 is the last day for all other UFT school-based titles.
  • Snow days, if we have any, will be remote instructional days. Otherwise, the DOE would have to convert another scheduled holiday to an instructional day to make up the day to meet the 180-day minimum.
  • Election Day will be a professional development day. Students will have a remote learning day with no synchronous or live instruction. All schools will receive funding to pay per-session to teachers to plan that day’s asynchronous instruction.

I hope this information is helpful as you plan ahead. Thank you for everything you do.


Sincerely,

Michael Mulgrew's Signature

Michael Mulgrew
UFT President


Staff version





LIVE BLOGGGING FROM RETIREE TOWN HALL

President Michael Mulgrew greeted the retirees. Apologizes for not having more information out there as negotiations continue on an RFP. Our lawyers said not to release information but other unions put out more information. Healthcare is 1A with wages. Received emails.

Municipal Labor Committee negotiations on healthcare costs are always ongoing. Our goal is not to diminish benefits. Michael Bloomberg strategy was to let costs spiral out of control and then diminish benefits. We had to hold tight through stabilization fund. PICA drugs which people need in a health crisis are needed by sickest individuals. We want to keep premium free healthcare which almost nobody else has. Under de Blasio, there has been a lot of negotiations but year-to-year costs have been going up even faster than under Bloomberg. Was a HIP baby as my father was sanitation worker. HIP building back and not so worried about bonuses. Forced new workers into HIP and now 95% stay in HIP. We save a lot of money from that. We use money we save into stabilization and to fund and to fund raises.

RFP on PICA, we were very tough negotiating and saved $300,000,000 Healthcare front and center in fight. We want to keep all doctors and everything else. We use our buying power to keep what we have and put more into stabilization fund. 

Some emails are just not true. Have met our obligations for contract we are already in. UFT officers do not have a different medical plan than everyone else. People using things that are factually wrong for their own purposes. How do we get to a better place?

Senior care program when city shut down. Medicare part A and Medicare Part B and Medigap. Costs going way up on senior care. Discussions stopped because of COVID. Question: How do we maintain what we have and use buying power to benefit retirees? We had a major fight with NY Presbyterian. Hypothetically, x-rays being used on the same machine were charging $1400 while others were charging $400. We and the city do healthcare together. There are too many of us. We are not the rest of the United States. We are not going to be lambs to the slaughter. We agreed with the city to get back to the insurance companies to audit the hospitals. We bring large numbers of people. 250,000 in senior care and 1.3 million active members. 

Two things to clear up. I hate the name Medicare Advantage. Medicare risk plans from 1990s and 200s that were bad plans. Individuals going medicare individual plans on their own are what people are complaining about. Any plan that would net accept Medicare, we are not interested in. Preserve premium free and access to doctors. Reduce costs and that money has to go back to healthcare stabilization fund for our benefits. If we pay $100 and it goes down to $80, the money goes back to us for benefits. Medicare Advantage Group plan. The city and the city unions are the group. We don't want the off the shelf plan. We are telling insurance companies we have 250,000 in plan and we want to know what you will do for us.

How do they make money? Part A and Part B, last 20% picked up by the city. City does not get federal reimbursement because it is not covered. We are entitled to some reimbursement in the group that could come back to the stabilization fund. This will stop us from doing something crazy two or three years from now. NYC public employees are the only people with premium free healthcare in the United States. It is not free. What we have we have paid for and we continue to pay for it. At the end of every year, people at the MLC have a list of everything that has been utilized. We then adjust rates. Prices keep going up. That's why we have embarked on this process. If we do nothing, two or three years from now we will be in a bad position. We have fought and paid for too much over the years. If we can now say that by moving to this kind of plan, the process is not done, if we get everything we want in writing so we can continue to have premium-free healthcare with more or the same benefits, we can do it or we can say no. Each union in the MLC gets a vote. Put all of the unions together and trying to figure out how to get things done is tough but it has served us well. We're trying to create more revenue and keep the benefits we have. We saved money on PICA. Using our power, we tell Emblem we need a better process.

Why would someone want this business? How can I be assured they are trying to do the best by our members? Federal government more than happy to give people money to manage it. Group plans, the group gets set up with x number of dollars for every person and then the real money is if the people within the group are satisfied. They get money with a 4-star platform. Reads an email, non politically motivated. If we do this transition, there will be no additional costs. We as a group are telling the insurance company that this is what we want. On Empire for supplemental coverage, will it be impacted? No. Could we go back to senior care plan? No, if we go in this direction. You would have to pick up $170. The process is to wait for the mediator to decide and then the MLC would decide and it would be brought back to this group. We are driving everyone in the industry nuts. We have to make sure everything is in writing and everything is assured to us. Most pick up 365-day hospital rider. We think it should be covered for the year. RX rider should be covered. No cap for out-of-pocket. Some families hit really, really hard. How do we get a cap? We deal with this system personally taking care of my wife and my mothers. Lots of out of pocket costs. You can go to any doctor that takes Medicare. Some hospitals we are not going forward unless we can get full coverage from them. Presentation yesterday at MLC so now free to talk a little more about it.

Fight with NY Presbyterian worked so we should be okay with them. We need a standing committee on healthcare in retiree chapters and with in-service people too. Loves that we are in this fight. We believe everyone should have premium-free healthcare. If we play by their rules, this ends in us losing. We are getting super aggressive. Keep benefits, reduce costs and have savings go back to us. Joint labor-management committee to monitor everything within the system. Fought hard and are proud of it. We can preserve these rights for generations and generations until the federal government does something about drug costs and hospital costs. Our fight is to make sure we keep this benefit. it is the entire MLC that does this. In service healthcare contract is coming up next year. Emails have pushed things into our negotiations. Questions guide us.

Question: Phased in or come at once?

Mulgrew answer: It's not finalized so we can't say now.

Question: What is the MLC?

Answer: Municipal Labor Council is all the unions negotiating as a group on healthcare. That's police, sanitation, CSA, others and us. 

Question: Live in Oakland, California, how would we be affected?

Answer: All Medicare doctors will take it and can go to another Medicare doctor if yours retires. 98% of doctors take Medicare.

Question: Daughter in college on my GHI. What would happen with her coverage?

Answer: Writing it down. Doesn't think there will be a problem with that. Will ask that question. We put that into new plan. Should be fine.

Question: If we switch over, would we still get a part B reimbursement every spring?

Answer: Yes

Question: Part A and Part B gets paid for by the federal government if enrolled (Mulgrew says 6,000 aren't enrolled), government said for big firms and cities to administer plans. Express Scripps, would there be a problem if they moved that?

Answer: That won't be a problem.

Question: Particulars important, committee on healthcare to meet and be strong. Is that different from joint labor-management committee? 

Answer: Retiree chapter should set that up, can't tell chapter what to do. Joint committee of MLC would need a retiree and in-service member. These battles are not stopping. Hospitals ask for 18% increase and only raise it 9% like they did us a favor. Non-profit CEO with $9 million salary and millions in bonuses. Hospitals got billions of dollars from federal government in COVID. 

Question: Parent of developmentally disabled man in his fifties. Accept Medicare. Will we be negotiating with smaller facilities?

Answer: They will have to accept it. Can use a facility outside of Medicare in senior care  and we will make sure they can be used.

Question: In negotiating, have to give like new members in HIP. Instead of having people go into HIP for one year, make it 3-5 years to add to supplemental program?

Answer: Everyone when we negotiated this thought that nobody would want to go into HIP. New CEO said she was doing what she could for to improve it. That will be on the table for the next negotiation.

Question: Retiring this year, will offices be open for a pension consultation?

Answer: They are open now.  

Question: Would be losing UFT welfare fund dental and optical?

Answer: No, but we could lose more if the stabilization fund is depleted. 

Question: When is negotiation going to be over and when will we get a printout of the decision?

Answer: We have still have questions with the mediator from our bid. The mediator makes a decision and then we will bring to you what is in that plan. Decision then on what the UFT vote will be at the MLC.

Question: Live in Florida on west coast, programs for Medicare and Medicare Advantage. Florida Medicare is different that anyplace else?

Answer: Can move into different plans. Many individual plans in Florida. We are not interested in narrowing of networks or facilities. We want the broadest network possible. Institutions, we have a lot of people in Florida. Most hospitals take Medicare. There should be no issues, especially in a state like Florida. 

Question: Thanks Mulgrew, Part B reimbursement, what about IRMA payments?

Answer:  I think that will be fine but not totally certain. Not clear on that at this moment but we will get back to you. Tom Murphy chimes in that IRMA will remain the same. 

Question: Retirees not yet on Medicare?

Answer: They stay where they are at this moment. Let the committee drive what they should be doing. Keep and improve benefits and lower costs. 

Question: If people want to remain on GHI senior care they can do it for an extra $170 a month?

Answer: Can pay more if you like but you can keep the same doctors in the group. Why pay for something you would get without paying?

Question: Is this an HMO or a PPO?

Answer: It's not an HMO it works more like a PPO. You just go and it is covered. They offer more than what is covered because they want to have the good scores to get more money from the government. 

Question on expatriots?

Answer: We are asking about that. 

Question: Bennett Fisher asked: What is to stop doctors who do currently take traditional Medicare from not accepting this plan at their discretion?

Answer: The fact is most doctors accept Medicare because there are federal and state incentives for them. That would be a problem even if we same in our same plan. If something like that were ever to occur, if it is on a small scale, we would use all of our abilities and whatever companies we are working with to get that fixed. If it is a large scale, then it becomes a legislative issue at a state or federal level. 

(Sorry folks, I missed a while as an operator finally picked up to let me ask a question. No surprise but I wasn't put on the call.)

Question: Gym memberships and group classes?

Answer: We are working on that.

Mulgrew thanks people for taking their time. Recommend a standing healthcare committee. We're taking care of each other. The nastiness of politics especially on social media has had a bad effect. That is not us. Take pride in taking care of in-service and retirees. Hope you have a better understanding. Tell people to calm down on Facebook and other social media. We are really good people. There will be another town hall when we make a decision. 

You can listen to the entire Town Hall on Sound Cloud

The question I wanted to ask:

Medicare Advantage or part C is privately run healthcare. If 250,000 NYC retirees go from a public into a privatized program, don't we run the risk of weakening traditional Medicare significantly which will make it less likely that we will get Medicare for all in the long run which is what we should be striving for and that is the only way to really control prices?

Also, I may have attempted to sneak this in:

How are we going to be opposed to privatizing schools (charters-vouchers) when we are privatizing our own healthcare?

Monday, May 03, 2021

ALMOST 500 ATTEND RETIREE ADVOCATE WEBINAR ON MEDICARE PRIVATIZATION; SCHIRTZER ASKS MULGREW FOR A DISCUSSION ON MEDICARE ADVANTAGE

I had the privilege of being one of the speakers on Zoom last night as hundreds of retirees attended the UFT Retiree Advocate webinar in advance of Michael Mulgrew's Town Hall with retirees on Tuesday. An invited medical doctor pretty much laid out the pros and cons of Medicare Advantage and then people associated with New Action, Solidarity, MORE and yours truly were able to speak.

I told the Zoom that UFT Town Halls in the age of COVID-19 are basically like call-in radio shows. President Mulgrew gives a lengthy monologue saying whatever the UFT is doing at the present time is the greatest thing ever and then some screened questions are allowed. The questions usually start with something like: "Hi Michael, thank you for the wonderful, amazing job you are doing..." My wife and some friends have tried to get through and have never had a challenging question answered live by Mulgrew. When the UFT dispatches an unprepared part-timer to call to answer the question that was posed, it is rah, rah, UFT essentially.

Tomorrow, I hope the retirees will have an open question and answer session during the Town Hall at 1:00 P.M. One retiree said we don't want a 90-minute UFT "infomercial" but rather a real dialogue on changes possibly coming for Medicare-eligible retirees. 

We have reported on what we know about the probable changes coming mostly based on information from my other union, the Professional Staff Congress (CUNY teachers) which along with the UFT is part of the 152 union Municipal Labor Committee negotiating with the city. 

Mike Schirtzer, who is pretty much the only independent left on the UFT Executive Board, asked two questions on Medicare and this was his followup from Arthur Goldstein's report (bold added by me):

Retiree town hall--Please take questions on Medicare.

Mulgrew- Not making any decisions yet. If we have to blow it up, we will.  Lots of bad information out there. There are always factions. UFT officers get same health care as everyone else in the UFT. Of course it's very inportant. People are bored when I talk about hospitals, but when we're negotiating, those costs are on the table. The most expensive doctor is usually not the best one. It's an insane industry. They wouldn't allow us to question costs, just pay bills. That's what we're dealing with. We need to avoid high premiums. Retiree chapter has already given me lots of questions.

While I am against privatizing services like education and healthcare, early studies show Medicare Advantage does have many satisfied customers. However, research also reveals that MA does limit access to care. Then there is the question about people who are very sick. 

This is from what I believe is a very objective paper published by HeathAffairs.org that acknowledges the pros and cons of Medicare Advantage (MA):

Another marker of quality is whether Medicare beneficiaries remain in MA plans when their health deteriorates. On this basis, there is reason to question whether MA plans offer higher quality. One paper found that MA members who had been hospitalized at least once had a higher rate of switching back to traditional Medicare than did other MA enrollees. The same was true for users of home care and long-term nursing home care.

We can't forget the profits:

We know that MA is dominated by a few large companies, and that it is a profitable line of business. At the end of 2020, the four largest MA companies accounted for more than 60 percent of total enrollment, and the 15 largest accounted for more than 80 percent. MA has also been very lucrative for many private health insurers. In 2017, according to MedPAC, the average pretax margin of for-profit MA plans was 5.2 percent; in 2018, it was 4 percent.

The HealthAffairs.org summary:

In conclusion, it is not clear that Medicare Advantage for All would help bend society’s cost curve more than Medicare for All or other policy proposals. In fact, the current evidence suggests that MA plans have not saved Medicare any money relative to traditional Medicare. To the extent that they lower costs, the lion’s share of those savings seems to be flowing to insurance companies, partly in the form of profits. Policy makers should consider whether this is the direction in which they want health care financing to go.