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February 22, 2007

Going to the Mat for WPS

Jason Shephard:

Suzanne Fatupaito, a nurse’s assistant in Madison schools, is fed up with Wisconsin Physicians Service, the preferred health insurance provider of Madison Teachers Inc.

“MTI uses scare tactics” to maintain teacher support for WPS, Fatupaito recently wrote to the school board. “If members knew that another insurance [plan] would offer similar services to WPS and was less expensive — it would be a no-brainer.”

WPS, with a monthly price tag of $1,720 for family coverage, is one of two health coverage options available to the district’s teachers. The other is Group Health Cooperative, costing $920 monthly for a family plan.

During the past year, the Madison school board has reached agreements with other employee groups to switch from WPS to HMO plans, with most of the savings going to boost pay.

In December, the board held a secret vote in closed session to give up its right to seek health insurance changes should negotiations on the 2007-09 teachers contract go into binding arbitration. (The board can seek voluntary insurance changes during negotations.)

“What we’ve done is taken away a huge bargaining chip,” says board member Lucy Mathiak. “Every other major industry and public sector has had to deal with health-insurance changes, and we’ve got a very real $10 million deficit.”

MTI Executive Director John Matthews says other employee unions “made a big mistake” in switching to HMO plans. Matthews has long maintained that WPS provides superior coverage, despite its higher costs and disproportionate number of complaints. And he defends the paycheck he collects from WPS as a member of its board, saying he’s better able to lobby for his teachers.

Much more on this issue, including links, audio and a transcript, here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at February 22, 2007 12:00 PM
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