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Limiting healthcare options on the table in Facilities contract negotiations

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

As the contract for Department of Facilities Management workers nears its Oct. 12 expiration, negotiations are underway that could allow the University to reduce the number of health providers available to workers from two to one.

If the contract passes without an explicit guarantee that staff members may select between one of two providers — UnitedHealthcare or Blue Cross Blue Shield — the University would be able to limit its employees to one provider, said Karen McAninch ’74, business agent for the United Service and Allied Workers, a union representing Facilities workers.

In the last two years, University Hall has signed contracts with other University unions representing the Department of Public Safety, Dining Services and the University Library.  The new contracts give the University the freedom to change health plans if the benefits offered are comparable. But the University cannot implement this option unless they also make the same change to the Facilities contract.

Karen Davis, vice president for human resources, said administrators want flexibility in choosing health plans because it could save the University money, which could in turn save employees money.  

If University Hall were to offer all of its business to one provider, McAninch and Davis both said administrators would likely be able to convince the provider to offer lower rates.  

Davis, who is not a member of the University’s negotiating team, said employees would likely not have to change doctors if the University switched to a single carrier because both carriers cover similar doctors’ networks.

“In effect, our plans are the same,” Davis said. “What we’re going to offer you under Blue Cross is pretty much the same as you’re going to get under United. The only difference is the health card looks a little different.”

But McAninch said switching to a single provider could be “disruptive” for employees.  

“Blue Cross is a very good plan for people who have certain needs,” she said, drawing on examples of workers who commute from Massachusetts or have children at college in another state.

“United has great coverage in Rhode Island, but it’s not as good in other areas,” McAninch said. “Blue Cross, you can usually use wherever you go.”

The sides will meet Thursday to continue negotiations.

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