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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Squeaky Wheel? More on MPS, MTEA, and health care

I don't know if I can take credit for it or not, but after a number of posts here on the issue, letters to editors, and an email exchange with a reporter, I see that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an editorial up today that, for the first time since the arbitrator's decision--and the revised story, at that--admits in print that the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association's proposal asked teachers to pay for their health care, too:
Outside of prescription drugs, health care had been virtually cost-free for teachers, but not, of course, for taxpayers. And soaring health care costs had led to educational cutbacks. The administration proposed that teachers start picking up a share of the costs. The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association eventually agreed to do so--a breakthrough that failed to go far enough. The union sought to peg the share teachers pay to their salaries. The administration sought to peg it to actual costs [of the Aetna plan only, not the HMO--ed.].

The administration argued, persuasively, that its method would give teachers incentives to control costs and thus help slow the soaring price of health care--a goal not achieved by the teachers' proposal.
I've been through this before: As long as MPS self-funds its health-care program, it is stupid and dangerous to divide employees into healthy teachers who pay little and ill teachers who pay more. It will not take long for the proportions to fall completely out of whack, to where the healthy teachers' contributions no longer cover a significant portion of the ill teachers' costs; this will cause the cost of the Aetna plan to keep skyrocketing, causing an even greater disparity, causing further increases, and so on until the district is bankrupted by its own health care plan.

The next post I write for the Superintendent Report Card Blog will be in part, I think, about how this district is caught in a crisis not of its own making--the debacle that is our national health care system. The "soaring price of health care" has naught to do with MPS teachers' taking care of themselves and their families, but rather an impotence among our national leadership to do something about the problem. However, MPS had an opportunity in this last contract to work collaboratively with its employees to find ways to fund its insurance program that were both fair and comprehensive. Instead, the superintendent and his labor relations lawyers dug their heels in and refused to compromise. After more than a year of obstruction on their part--a year in which taxpayers bore the costs of their refusal to settle!--the district won an arbitration doomed to push us toward bankruptcy, and now they get lauded as heroes.


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