Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pass it on

I've had an email forwarded to me several times and so I thought I would post the general response to the points it raises.

The responses below do not represent a comprehensive overview of the PEIP proposal, just a response to the points raised by the original email. For a comprehensive overview, I invite you to attend an informational meeting.

(Email with my points in bold and Italicised.)
1. You have to choose one clinic as your primary clinic. You have to go to only that clinic unless you have a referral from your doctor to go some where else. I know you can change what you list as your primary clinic so many times a year, but I don't know how many.

Yes, you have to choose one clinic as your primary clinic. You can change primary clinics monthly.

2. You need a referral to go to any other doctor (like a specialist of some kind) that isn't in your primary clinic. When I asked if that requires only one referral, I was told the doctor would have to list how many times you could see that other doctor. If you need to see the other doctor more times than was listed on the original referral form you would have to get another referral. It's not a blank referral that would say you could see them as many times as needed for a year. They have to list how many times that would be. I was told by Gundy at the union office that the reason referrals are required is because by doing that it cuts down on how many times people go to a specialist that usually costs more. -If you're like me, you want/need the freedom to go to doctors you choose without a referral. No one really knows when something will happen that will require a specialist or how many times they will need to go.

Actually, referrals are not needed for the 5 most commonly referred situations: chiropractic care, OB/GYN, chemical dependency care, mental health care, and vision care. Those 5 areas are self-referral. Other areas of care need a referral from a primary clinic and that referral is set for the number of times your medical doctor determines is appropriate. Actually, doctors have been trained to have the expertise to know what might happen when you experience certain symptoms and have a general idea of the method and frequency of treatments. .

Depending on the relationship your doctor has with you specialist and/or you the re-referral can happen a few different ways. The specialist calls your doctor after your last visit and says “Re-refer Patient A because I’m not done treating Medical Issue B.” The specialist sends you back to your doctor or the specialist asks you to phone your doctor and ask for the re-referral.

Whether Gundy is right or not, I can’t say. I do know the medical community is concerned with self-diagnoses. Perhaps this is a way to catch someone who believes they have one ailment soon enough to treat them successfully for the correct ailment so perhaps the referral system is intended to provide someone with the proper care.

2. The rate or tier you pay for all doctors you see (even those specialists you are referred to) depends on the rating your primary clinic has. This includes hospitals. Every place you go to you will pay according to the level/tier your primary clinic has been assigned. -The doctor I like to see for all my pre-op exams and other things is at a clinic that is rated a level 3. That means I would have to pay that rate when I go to any of my other doctors too. Currently my specialists have a lower co-pay than my regular doctor has. I'm thinking most people wouldn't want to be locked in to paying at the one level or tier that their clinic is rated. Of course, there is the option of changing doctors & naming a lower level/tier clinic as their primary clinic, but not everyone would want to change doctors.

This looks accurate for this person’s situation. Co-pays, etc. are rated by the Tier your primary clinic is in. Just over 80% of the clinics in the PEIP network are Tier 2 clinics but clearly that leaves 20% of the clinics to be Tiers 1, 3, or 4.

4. The co-pay cost for same day surgery or hospital stay surgery is higher. - Here is how it works for the Health Partners Distinction plan . Currently if I have surgery and stay in the hospital I pay nothing for a co-pay at a level 1 hospital and $250 for a level 2 hospital. On the new plan I would have to pay $450 for an inpatient surgery because my primary clinic is considered a level/tier 3 clinic. Currently if I have outpatient surgery I pay a $25 co-pay at a level 1 hospital and $50 at a level 2 hospital. On the new plan I would pay a $220 co-pay for any hospital outpatient surgery due to the classification of my primary clinic. I realize that might not be the same for everyone depending on what rating their primary care clinic is given, but it's something to think about. None of us know when we will need surgery. I had hardly been to a doctor until I retired and found out I had b.c..

These numbers are true for someone in the Distinctions plan. Here are some other numbers that would be applicable comparisons from Distinctions to Advantage as well: Chiropractic care: $30 (with Wellness Initiative) vs. $27. Ambulance: 80% coverage vs. 95% coverage. Prescription drugs: $12 for generics vs. $10, $24 for brand name vs. $16, non formulary NOT COVERED vs. $36, OutOfPocket Max: NONE vs. $800. A comprehensive comparison reveals savings and costs from both plans, which would apply differently to different people.

I do appreciate that she realizes that this is not the same for everyone. In addition to everyone’s unique set of circumstances, there are about 1,200 people who don’t take Distinctions. Ultimately everyone must do what this person did and that is study it from their own vantage point to determine how they feel about the potential of switching to PEIP from the district health insurance pool.

5. The difference in monthly cost between the Health Partners Distinction plan we currently have and the higher level of the public employee plan is $31.89 for one person, $72.02 for a single + 1 plan, and $90.51 for a family plan.
I'm wondering if you're like me and feel the advantage of going to any doctor you want without a referral is worth the small additional cost. The referral part alone makes it worth it to me. All it takes is 50% + 1 vote to switch to the public employee plan so everyone's vote really counts.

The difference in monthly costs is accurate. However, one person’s couch change is another’s college savings account. It is difficult to tell a member with an $11 pay check after health insurance expenses that $32, $72, or even $90 isn’t worth it. It is equally difficult to tell someone scared that their cancer will re-emerge that it’ll all be fine.

Clearly access to affordable and high-quality health care is important to everyone or we wouldn’t have spent so much time at so many membership meetings in the last 3 years on this subject. It is also clear that some members want access and quality so affordability isn’t an issue to them. It’s also clear that some members want quality and affordability so access is less of an issue to them.

In the aggregate, we need to work toward a balance of access, affordability and quality that meets the needs of our members. We have been trying to do that through our legislative advocacy, our bargaining team work, and through investigating the Public Employee Insurance Program (PEIP).

Every vote is important. However, this vote continues our discussion on a suitable solution to affordable, accessible, and high-quality health care, it does not finish it. Our bargaining teams' work needs to continue and our legislative advocacy needs to continue as well.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jeanne Sedgwick, Minnesota School Nurse of the Year!

NOTE: I need to take time out of our PEIP discussion to celebrate with everyone that Local 28's own Jeanne Sedgwick has been named Minnesota School Nurse of the Year by the School Nurse Organization of Minnesota. I was allowed to speak last night at Jeanne's award ceremony to congratulate her and so I'm sharing my comments below. Please join me in congratulating Jeanne and thanking all of our school nurses!

It is an honor to be here tonight to share my admiration with all of you for Jeanne Sedgwick. School nurses hold a very special place in education both for classroom teachers and for parents and I am eager to honor both Jeanne and all of you in either capacity. You may be familiar with Jeanne’s many leadership positions, from the Executive Board of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers to the American Federation of Teachers Health Care Program and Policy council. Leaders tap into Jeanne Sedgwick because of her positive attitude, her tenacious work-ethic, and her hopeful spirit grounded in a deep and powerful knowledge of good nursing

As grateful as I am to be one of those leaders who has Jeanne just a phone call away, I am much more humbled by the work she does for students. Students and families tap into Jeanne for many of the same reasons we do. They see her positive attitude as being consummately approachable. Her tenacious work-ethic is revealed in superior service to students in crisis and those with chronic conditions. Her hopeful spirit is evident to them by the sincere care she delivers, again all of this grounded in a deep and powerful knowledge of good nursing.

Amidst the health care crisis that pervades our communities and even our nation; in a state where we still seem to tolerate having over 80,000 children not covered by any insurance plan, school nurses stand ready with as many hours as you are given to be the first responders, the triage unit, and the urgent care center for our students. I know the work I did as a classroom teacher was more effective because of the school nurse in my building. I know that the work I do for all my members is made better by this school nurse on my executive board, and I know that the work of the School Nurse Organization of Minnesota will be made better with Jeanne Sedgwick as your school nurse of the year.

One of the ways the American Federation of Teachers advocates for students is by declaring "Every Child Needs a School Nurse." I think we can all agree that we need Jeanne Sedgwick, her attitude, work ethic, spirit and knowledge. On behalf of the membership of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, congratulations Jeanne!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Health Insurance Education

The calls and emails I have gotten in the last week from members have been a series of diverse questions about personal circumstances, budgetary bottom lines, fact-checking, and union solidarity. All of the communications have had one thing in common: Members doing their best to immerse themselves in the issue of the best health insurance policy for the best money.

It's been a pleasure listening to, talking to, and emailing everyone and it makes me look forward to our information sessions as well. A few things are very clear to me already:

  • Members are voraciously educating themselves to make the most informed decision possible.
  • Members want high-quality health care.
  • Members want affordable, accessible health care.

All this leads me to believe even more that we were right to put this decision squarely in members' hands. These things are not new. Almost from the day I started I have fielded emails and phone calls, presided over membership meetings and contract discussions, and listened to members at staff meetings and come to the same conclusion.

We want high-quality health care. We hate to see our colleagues denied treatments when a family doctor is over-ruled by a hospital administrator or use crossing their fingers as their deductible plan.

We want it to be affordable for everyone. It kills us to see our brothers and sister in our union and in other unions bringing home 75 cent paychecks or working 3 jobs so they can have health insurance AND an income.

We want it to be accessible. We don't want health care rationed one way or the other. We want sick people to get the attention they need to be well and we want healthy people to get the attention they need to stay that way.

We want to be informed. Time and again members will read about it, study it, question it, and then read it again. We want to make the most educated decisions possible.

The above conclusions have made me realize that we were right to put this decision squarely in the hands of members because we are acting fabulously like the labor union we are. When we are informed we make good decisions. We are the sort of people who care intrinsically about others so we want to make collective decisions for the common good.

Use this blog for any discussions you would like, attend an informational meeting at the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, and return that ballot (being mailed to you on October 20th with instructions) by October 29th at 5 p.m.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

More about PEIP

Health insurance, like your paycheck, is a serious and often emotional issue. We have been researching the possibility of the Public Employee Insurance Pool for about 15 months as one of a few promising opportunities to improve the affordability of high quality health care for all our members. This is fundamentally important to the St. Paul Federation of Teachers for at least two reasons, one close to home and one grounded in our community.

The cost of health insurance has taken up more and more of that other serious and emotional issue, your paycheck. When the two most serious and emotional issues converge upon our members it leads to some untenable situations. Some members are taking home a few dollars on their paychecks after paying for health insurance. We also have members who have taken their healthy children out of our health insurance pool and insured them on the open market with catastrophic deductible plans so they can afford to keep working in the district. Sadly, we also have former members who have severed employment with St. Paul Schools for a job in a district that offers more affordable coverage, even when that means a cut in salary because the member still takes home more money at the end of the month.

Improving the health insurance situation of our members is a start, not a solution. The other reason this decision is fundamentally important to us is grounded in the same reason we chose to work in a public school district in the first place. We determined our talent and then sought out a career that would leave the world a little better than the way we found it. Similarly, unions are formed to improve peoples’ lives. Finding more affordable health insurance for us will not stop our work to improve access to affordable and high quality health insurance for our students and their families where we can. Strong public schools rely on healthy communities and healthy communities don’t exist where there are disparities in health care. We know that even when we are successful in attaining affordable health insurance, our working conditions will not improve until our students and their families have the same high quality, affordable health care that we have.

We are committed to continuing our work in partnership with Take Action Minnesota to create an affordable health care system for all in Minnesota. We will support the work of Education Minnesota for broad-ranging health care solutions. Most importantly right now though, we are dedicated to making the PEIP proposal a thoughtful decision among our membership.