Saturday, October 29, 2022

UFT--If We Don't Surrender, We Will Lose

I was pretty shocked to get an email from Michael Mulgrew suggesting I needed to tweet out support for the City Council to change the law. 

The law in question says the city can't charge us for health care. That's why a lawsuit demanding the end of a charge to remain in Medicare with GHI prevailed. No matter how much swagger Adams has, he can't change the law. (To unilaterally change a law in NYC, you have to be Mike Bloomberg and buy everyone off.)

The email contained a passage that surprised me.

The city’s Office of Labor Relations sent a letter to the head of the Municipal Labor Committee giving the unions notice of its intent to enroll all Medicare‑eligible city retirees in a NYC Medicare Advantage plan and eliminate all other retiree health plans, including GHI SeniorCare. If the unions don’t go along with it, the city has threatened annual health care premiums of roughly $1,500 for all in‑service municipal employees.

So let's see if I've got this straight.  If we don't agree that retirees must pay $5,000 a year per couple to retain the care they've had forever, in-service members will have to pay $1500 a year. It's kind of hard to see the union in that. In fact, it appears we're pitting one section of the union against another. 

I just read Beaten Down, Worked Up by Steven Greenhouse.  It's a wonderful book detailing the history of union in the United States. Nowhere in the book was there an inspiring tale of a union that gave up and lost rights. Nowhere was there a touching story of a union that pitted retired members against in-service members to prop up a privatized version of health care.

There were stories of inspired leadership facing bosses, sometimes with strikes, and sometimes with other creative actions that precluded them. Personally, I don't remember the last significant boots on the ground UFT action. Maybe someone can remind me. On Facebook, I see small protests that may include some UFT employees, but I don't see rank and file as a whole out doing anything anymore. 

I'm not sure most UFT members even know what a union is. When I was chapter leader and we were facing a strike, a member came up to me and said, "I'm going to be a scab." I reacted angrily, and the member was surprised. This member clearly expected me to laugh it off and say "Okay good buddy, go ahead and cross our picket line."

The MLC is moving us backward. If we are to fight, we must fight for improvements, not inferior health care. And again, it's unconscionable that one faction of our union is being pitted against another. This is not how we create solidarity. This is not how we inspire activism. This is not how we move forward. 

I've been writing for some time about this Medicare Advantage thing. At first I was willing to try it, but the consistent ineptitude of leadership has turned me off to it utterly. First they failed to recruit doctors for the plan. Then they failed to check applicable law and lost in court. Now they send us an email that feels like a gun to our heads--if you don't support a poorly conceived plan that has failed at every juncture for retirees, active members will have to pay.

That's not a particularly persuasive argument. We deserve better from our leadership. No, President Mulgrew, I will not be sending tweets demanding that city council degrade health care for retirees. We should be fighting to improve it. And once again, it's unconscionable that we oppose the NY Health Act

This is a quagmire. There is no victory in that email. It's the job of leadership to better our lot, not march us off a cliff.

MLC and UFT leadership need to work toward a better solution, or stand down for someone who will.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

UFT Health Care--Time to Abandon the Hamster Wheel

A few days ago, I had a column in the NY Daily News expressing support for the NY Health Act. I suggested this as a way to deal with rising health costs not only for the UFT, but for the entire state. New York State is as large as England, and if England can provide health care for all, so can we. Since I wrote that, Emblem/ GHI has raised copays

The UFT's line in the sand has been premium-free health care. I assume that line is shared by our fellow unions, or at least a bunch of them in MLC. While MLC ostensibly represents all city unions, some seem less affected than others. I know NYPD did not love the idea of $50 co-pays at Urgent Care, and was exempted from them. I also know if you choose Pro-Health Urgent Care, it will cost you a hundred bucks these days.

Premium-free is important, because once you get into that, you can never get out. Some municipalities offer raises, but then offer premium raises that render pay raises into nothing. Sometimes the premium raises are more than the pay raises and people end up making less. That said, there are other ways to attack your pocketbook, and increased copays are certainly one of them. 

We are in a mess, and we need more than hopeful words from our leadership. MLC committed to health savings, and these health savings have proved much more elusive than it seems to have imagined. While I was not overly preoccupied with having Emblem/ GHI manage an Advantage program, they're out of the picture, and I don't trust anyone else. In fact, I now have no confidence in MLC's planning ability, and given they couldn't even be bothered recruiting doctors before announcing this program, I don't think they could do it adequately with any company.

In fact, the sponsors of NY Health Act said that they would meet the same health coverage we have. The issues, despite what UFT leadership says, seem to be petty at best and disingenuous at worst:

Labor leaders say that they're hesitant to give up collectively bargained health benefits, even if single payer's architects vow that their healthcare coverage would be just as good under the new law; and they also fear that healthcare for all could reduce the appeal of union membership, since comprehensive health coverage has long been one of the sweetest perks of a union job.

This is absolutely not what we've been hearing from leadership. Furthermore, it's a poor talking point. Those who drop out of union still get health benefits from the city. It behooves us to drop this nonsense and figure out how to get off this hamster wheel. The fees go up, the "premium-free" health care costs more and more, and we desperately seek more and more extreme ways of sidestepping the premium while paying some other way. 

A whole lot of us barely even know what union is anymore. At its core, union is something to better the lives of citizens. We join together so as not to be exploited. We take stands. We don't sit and wait and hope. Every UFT member should read Beaten Down, Worked Up by Steven Greenhouse. Those of us working in schools haven't begun to even contemplate what our union could be and do. Fixing health care for us (and for our brothers and sisters in NY State) would be a monumental accomplishment, and we're not even trying.

As to our immediate issue, there is a whole lot of talk about hospitals raising prices. If the state were to take over, prices would be much simpler. And personally, I wouldn't feel bad at all about losing those parasitic insurance companies. There would certainly be savings by cutting corporate profits to zero. There would be savings for medical offices that didn't need to maneuver between 500 different insurance companies. 

And hey, if you feel like going to some doctor that charges top dollar and doesn't accept NY Health Care, there's always New Jersey. 

You're welcome to it.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The No-Consequence Life

You'll have to click on the screenshot to see this. Look under the black box below, third from top, to see the charming comment a student left on my Google Classroom.

I sent the screenshot to several administrators. First they did nothing. Then I heard, third-hand, that nothing could be done unless I wrote it up. So I did, and it turns out the student is already suspended. So admin says there's nothing they can do. Supposedly, the kid should be disciplined from the suspension center. What are they going to do? Have the kid serve concurrent suspensions?

So I guess it's okay to post stuff like this where all my students can see it. 

And now, this kid will know there are no consequences for this action.  Can't wait to have the student return to my class, knowing that.

Of course, I can always reach out for help 😆.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

I''ve been off blog for a while...

....but you can read my new column in NY Daily News.  MLC and UFT are moving backward by weakening Medicare for retirees. That will only happen if they and Adams change a law. If they don't, in-service members will be picking up costs, and they might just do that anyway. UFT needs to get behind the NY Health Act, and again, you can read the argument right here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The MLC Medicare Advantage Plan

Bear with me for a few paragraphs, please. The other day I got a bill from Quest Diagnostics for $151.00. Evidently, it was a 20 dollar co-pay for one test, originally over 200, but after GHI sent them 8 bucks, I had only the co-pay. The other was the full, non-discounted amount. I was not happy.

I called Quest, got a message they were very busy, but if I pressed 1, they would call me back in twelve minutes. They did not. I called again, waited for twenty minutes, and got someone on the phone. This person insisted I call the insurance company, which hadn't paid. I called GHI and got a response immediately. The woman told me there were two conflicting codes, and that one had to be eliminated before they would pay.

I called Quest, waited another twenty minutes, and was explaining the situation to someone when we were disconnected. I called again, waited another twenty minutes, and the woman told me that only the prescribing doctor could change the codes. I didn't recognize the doctor's name, but she eventually identified the doctor's office, which I recognized. After losing an hour and a half over this nonsense, I called that office and left a message. 

Why am I telling this long, drawn-out story? I'm telling it because I am beginning to expect this very sort of nonsense from the Medicare Advantage plan MLC wants us to use. Its history is short, but utter chaos.

GHI has been pretty good to me, and their service is and has been better than other companies, like Quest for example. I was prepared to try the Medicare Advantage program endorsed by the city unions. However, Emblem/ GHI is no longer going to be the provider. It appears if Mayor Swagger and various unions change the law, the provider will be Aetna. I know nothing about Aetna, and I'm not prepared to trust my health to them.

This means when I (and eventually my wife) go to Medicare it will cost us $4584 a year out of pocket to get the medical plan city retirees have been getting gratis forever. And by gratis, I mean after having devoted twenty, thirty or more years to the city. I can swing it, I suppose. (Of course I'm not a DC37 worker trying to get by on minimum wage or thereabouts.) Still, I'm not getting what I was led to expect for the 38 years I've given this system.

Once we open the door to premiums, which we are doing here, we know well where it can lead. It leads to a friend of mine facing 12K a year, now, to keep health care if he retires. Of course that can increase, and it's done so disastrously and spectacularly, leading to red state rebellions. In fact, by changing the law, as Adams and various unions are trying to do, it means that standard Medicare prices can go up by pretty much any amount. Are we going to rely on Mayor Swagger to contain costs? (How is that a photo op for him?)

The Advantage plan sounded acceptable to me when GHI was going to run it. Of course, I live in the area, and I'm well-served by this plan. If I lived anywhere but here or Florida, that would be an issue. I have a friend in PA who's very concerned about this, and will surely have a $4584 annual expense if this goes through.

It's great that this plan pays doctors the same as standard Medicare. It's problematic, though, that MLC didn't bother to recruit doctors to participate. It's further problematic that this payment agreement can change at any time. In a further cost-saving method, the MLC could cut doctor payments, and effectively cut available doctors (assuming they actually bother to recruit any, which they thus far have not). Unlike many, I don't believe this is a Joe Namath Advantage scam. But it could easily degenerate into one. 

Unity is not thinking ahead. This plan is exactly why they won this year by the lowest percentage ever, and exactly why they could lose the next election. Having dealt extensively with the major opposition party, I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. It's beyond disappointing that this is all we can muster in such a potentially vibrant and effective union. We, the UFT, are poorly informed and not remotely as active as we could be.

In any case, the entire Medicare Advantage plan was abysmally planned. It lacked vision, and MLC didn't bother at all to prepare for the totally predictable outcry that ensued. Some leaders have their heads planted firmly in the sand, and are still insisting that everything is perfectly fine. However, this is a disaster, no matter how much makeup they paint over it. 

We deserve better.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The DOE Giveth, and Taketh Away, but It Giveth Crappeth

I'm finally using the DOE grading/ attendance system. Our school, for some reason, is piloting the system for attendance. The first time I used it was yesterday. I have a small class, and it was quite easy to use. Though I had pink sheets with me just in case, I didn't need to use them. The online system worked fine.

Alas, in my period 4, I could not get internet. While this was not necessarily the fault of the DOE, it meant that I could not use the system. This begs the question of whether an internet-based system is really workable at all. At this point I know most of my students, but I'm not sure I'd be able to recall which ones were and were not present after the fact. Utilizing a sign in sheet is a pain in the neck, and excessive paperwork if you have to record attendance twice.

I used the pink sheets and transferred the info later. I also made copies in case it occurred again. It didn't, but later on in the day I was unable to log in for minutes, and DOE informed me there was "no info found" on my classes. This suggests to me a buggy, unreliable system, everything I'd expect from a band of political appointee hacks who couldn't teach their way out of a paper bag. 

I was really apprehensive about the grading system, because today I'm giving an actual test, the grades of which I will have to record. I have refrained from grading anything until now, as my classes were broken into 20 sections. It was impossible. Seeking something possible, I looked at the DOE system and had not been able to figure out how to create an assignment or enter a grade. I hoped I could find a first-year teacher who knew better than I how to do so. 

Colleagues have horror stories. Some of them input grades and they simply do not take. Once they go to the next grade, the first is gone. Worse, some tell me that they've recorded grades that have disappeared. It appears our school has another issue--because we're so large everything takes longer. The system has to go through thousands of records to find the ones we need, and in typical DOE fashion, that's somehow an issue.

Also, if you want to weigh assignments, e.g. assign a quiz as 10% the value of a test, too bad for you. DOE, in its infinite wisdom, allows you to weight assignments at 50%, 100%, or 200%. Evidently they saw no value in consulting working teachers before releasing this atrocity. Nor could they contract with a system that's been around for years and is actually known to, you know, work. 

Our school, I learned this morning, is going to dump the DOE grading system and contract with a system that functions. I'm happy to hear that. I'll record my test in Google Classroom and hope for a better system very soon. 

I also want to thank the DOE for another innovation. Our new annex is pretty cool. In fact it's well beyond cool, because it's 48 degrees outside and pouring freezing rain. But we have no heat. An AP told me she heard official heating season doesn't start until October 15th, and that it would not, in fact, be initiated before people were trained in using it. 

I guess it shouldn't surprise me that Chancellor Soaring Eagle thinks he alone can determine beforehand how the weather will be, and can therefore determine the precise date, in advance, when heat will be appropriate. Of course, he's wrong on this, like with everything else.

In case that's not enough, right at the entrance of our annex should be a grate of some sort. It's not there, so the DOE geniuses replaced it with a piece of plywood, not precisely the sturdiest thing in the world. They then covered it with a rug so no one would see. Yesterday my friend slipped on it and twisted her ankle. I hear she's far from the first. 

Working for the DOE, you always know common sense is the least common of all the senses.