Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Who's Guilty of Misinformation

District officials have been quoted as saying the HEA has engaged in a “Misinformation Campaign” throughout the contract negotiations. We are asking you to consider these facts and to read the attached 4 page letter addressed from Carol Minnaar to John Burdick of the Holland Sentinel.

Fact #1: In a December 19, article in the Sentinel, Kevin Clark says “the health care piece is somewhat behind us,” in reference to negotiations. The law requires the board to negotiate all mandatory subjects of bargaining with the HEA, regardless of what declarations they make at their public meetings.

Fact #2: In a January 22, article of the GR Press, Minnaar said your HEA negotiations team agreed to only two bargaining sessions in 2.5 months. Here are the dates we’ve negotiated since school began: August 15, 16, September 6, 13, 28, October 10, 26, 27, November 2, 9, December 12, 14, January 25, 31. Can you find a 2.5 month period that only has 2 bargaining sessions?

Fact #3: The board’s illegally imposed insurance plans ensure that you and your families are the worst protected teachers in the area when it comes to health care. This is coupled with the board’s current bargaining position of half steps for this year and next and no pay raise for either year as well. Now they want to hurry up and start talking about Article 7 rollbacks in class size language, working day definitions, etc. Can you find any of this in Carol’s “spin” to Mr. Burdick?

Fact #4: The real reason the district wants these new health plans is clearly revealed on page 2 of this letter. Carol indicates that “the Board” will “have access to general claims information.” This means a probationary teacher’s ongoing high health care costs associated with a child’s birth complications, can and will be available. You curb plan costs by curbing benefit payoffs, it’s not rocket science.

Carol shows her true colors and the board’s true colors in the post-signature commentary relative to our “after school party” and the direct sending of proposals to the press.

Carol Minnaar's Letter


January 23, 2006

Mr. John Burdick
The Holland Sentinel

Dear John,

Thank you for giving me the time to provide you and your editor with a comprehensive description of the two Blue Cross plans that will take effect March 1 concerning the HEA, and to answer the three questions posed to me in your January 20 email.

First, the Blue Cross plans are the identical plans in which all eligible District administrators and non-union support staff participate. For example, the Superintendent and I are covered by these very plans.

I know that change is very hard, and when it comes to changes in insurance benefits, uncertainty and anxiety are always higher with public school employees who, for so long, have had the opportunity to receive fully paid insurance benefits with relatively lower drug copays and related costs than most other employee groups. Last year, Holland Public Schools employees only had a $2 drug copay. Now it is a $5/$10 drug card. I can understand why employees are reluctant make such changes in coverage.

As one of the few employees at Holland Public Schools who has worked in both the private and public sector, I can tell you from personal experience that the MESSA insurance benefits enjoyed by Michigan public school employees are great benefits. However, the Holland Board can no longer afford the cost of that coverage.

The District’s insurance consultants, Advantage Benefits Group, tell us that the two plans we are offering are better than the coverage that 90% or more of employees in Western Michigan receive in their workplaces now. The District is very pleased to have put together two plan options that offer quality benefits and yet are affordable for the District with no monthly cost to the employees.

Second, employees will be able to choose which plan is best suited for them and their families. The District is offering six (6) informational meetings for employees and their spouses to give out important information to help them make this choice. Representatives of the District’s insurance consultants and third party administrator will
be there to provide information about the plan benefits, and to answer employee questions.

Employees will learn that the health components of these plans include either (1) a Community Blue PPO plan with a Healthcare Reimbursement Arrangement or (2) the new Blue Cross Blue Shield Flexible Blue Plan #2. These are the same plans that the District has been proposing to the HEA. There is no monthly cost to employees for either of these plans, as the monthly premium cost does not exceed $1085.00 this school year.

The BCBS PPO Plan with HRA-Option 1

If employees have a lot of medical expenses, they may feel more comfortable with this plan, which I call the HRA plan. Under this PPO plan, there is a high deductible, but the district is fully paying for the deductible through a reimbursement process to be administered by the TPA. The TPA is ASR, a large and experienced third party administrator that handles a number of large employers in Kent and Ottawa Counties, including the Ottawa ISD.

Under this plan, there is a $10/$40 drug card. The cost in prescription drugs will vary from employee to employee and will depend upon the number of monthly prescription drugs and whether the drug is a generic or brand name drug. I cannot predict how this change will affect HEA staff because the District does not have access to claims data for its employees. As you probably know, MESSA does not release claims data and so the District could not design a plan with knowledge about actual claims history for the HEA. With the Board being the policyholder, the Board’s ability to design benefit coverage will improve as it will have access to general claims information. As before, individual claims history is protected by privacy laws.

The Flexible Blue Plan 2 – Option 2

The Flexible Blue Plan is a health savings account (“HSA”) also with a high deductible. However, as the Board’s bargaining team has explained in writing and verbally to the HEA bargaining team, the District is fully paying for the deductible for the 10 months they will be covered this year. Next year the deductible will be paid for the entire year.

Each month, the District will deposit 1/12th of the deductible amount into an HSA account that is owned by the employee. The HSA may also be spent on health-related expenses such as contact lens solution, cough syrup, lasik eye surgery and the like (all qualified expenses are listed in IRS Publication 502.) If the HSA grows over time, the employee at retirement may use the account for post-retirement medical expenses, such as paying for monthly premiums for the insurance provided to retired Michigan Public School Employees through the MPSERS system. The money does not revert back to the District at any time.

The HSA covers prescription drugs just like all other medical expenses. Once the deductible is spent, the plan covers eligible expenses on an 80/20 basis if the provider is in the Blue Cross network, up to an annual maximum. Like most insurance plans, provided that the employee stays within the network and does not incur costs beyond
what is reasonable and customary, the out of pocket cost each year should not exceed the annual amount of the coinsurance. The annual coinsurance amount is $2000.00 per family or 2 person, or $1000.00 per single person.

Comparison to MESSA Plans

Under the current MESSA Super Care 1 plan, the drug card was a $5/$10 drug card, however, the cost to the employee for that plan was $195.00 in January and February of 2006, the amount by which the monthly cost of Super Care 1 exceeded the $1085.00 the Board can afford this school year.

Under the MESSA Choices II plan, a PPO plan insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan, the drug card was also $5/$10, and the cost to the employee was $50.63 per month. With the Blue Cross plans; there is no monthly premium cost to the employee.

As you probably know, the HEA has offered to move all employees to the MESSA Choices II plan, a PPO plan insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan. I attached a comparison of the plans we prepared and gave to Mr. Craig Culver, the MEA Uniserv Director assigned to the HEA, at our recent negotiations session.

In our opinion, the Blue Cross plans are not “significantly inferior” to what the teachers had before. We certainly would not offer “significantly inferior” plans to our District administrators or non-union support staff. The Superintendent and I have no desire to participate in such “significantly inferior” plans.

Can the Board still offer MESSA as an option?

From the beginning of negotiations last spring, in light of the District’s fiscal condition and three years of flat State funding while “legacy” and energy costs escalated, the Board had communicated the need to achieve cost containment on insurance costs by 2006. Until very recently the Board consistently offered either the MESSA plans, at a monthly cost to employees, or, at no monthly cost to employees, the two high quality Blue Cross
plans that I have described.

In fact, as recently as October 26, the Board made a Final Offer to the HEA. In the Final Offer, the Board proposed two options. Option A allowed the HEA to choose either MESSA Super Care 1 or Choices II, provided the employees paid the difference between $1085.00 and the actual cost for those plans. Option B proposed the two Blue Cross plans going into effect on March 1. The HEA rejected both options.

As of the last bargaining session on December 14, the HEA was still proposing a fully paid Choices II plan at a monthly cost that exceeds $1085.00. Another bargaining session is scheduled for January 25.

I hope that this information responds to your questions. Please feel free to call me at any time to clarify this situation, or to answer any questions. Thank you for your newspaper’s continuing interest in the fiscal solvency of the Holland Public Schools.


Carol Minnaar
Director, Human Resources
Holland Public Schools

The HEA recently scheduled an after school party for its members. During that party, the HEA had forms available inviting employees to file claims against the District challenging the payroll deductions of these monthly costs. With the Blue Cross plans; there are no monthly deductions from an employee’s payroll. I am attaching the Board’s October 26, 27 and subsequent proposals and counterproposals. Let me know if you would like copies of the HEA’s proposals covering the same time period.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Unanswered Questions re: Insurance

Do these plans have a layoff benefit?

If I go on LTD, will you continue to pay for and cover my insurance premium for 2 years?

Will you continue my benefits in the event of a school closure?

Will you provide me with a personal advocate like Grace Romzick, or will it just be an agent from your company?

Does your office have a medical doctor-director and a staff of RN’s to check special cases?

Will 19-25 year old kids be covered at no extra cost?

Will it cover kids who are college students and beyond age 25 at no extra cost?

How do these plans cover chiropractic visits?

Can I still get my prescriptions filled through mail order at only $8.00 per year?

Will we still have the 50 visit allowance covered by the plans for Psychologists?

Do the prescription plans have a PD-MAC Rider? How much could a name brand prescription cost me if it has this?

Do these plans cover home health care?

Do you cover foreign exchange students?

Who can authorize changes to the plan? Does the employer have any unilateral change authority? Can you prove this to me in writing?

Will the plan language specifically state that “no changes can be made to this plan without the agreement of the parties through the collective bargaining process?”

Since the district is already unilaterally doing this to us now, isn’t it reasonable that they intend to do it again in the future?

Isn’t it true that in order to contain costs, even with your plans, you have to cut benefits that individuals actually use or you have no actual savings?

Can you actually guarantee the district savings over time compared to MESSA without modifying these plans at all or making me pay more each month for the premiums? (if yes: “Are you willing to guarantee us a plan that will always be comparable MESSA for the next 10 years and also always cost less, no matter how sick our employees might get from year to year?”)

How did you happen to put together 2 plans, after the fact, that cost exactly the amount of money the district had in their insurance proposal prior to bringing these plans to the table? Are these really honest prices?

Do you have copies or examples of how medical claims data for us can be formatted and reviewed by the district in order to decide which benefits they might want to cut to save money at a later time?

Could my name be on any of these documents? The amount of health care costs I incurred? Could the names of medications we are taking be accessed by the district? Could the names of Physicians or the clinics we seek treatment from be on any of these documents?

This is a pretty small town, if there is a $500,000 bill for an premature birth from one of our probationary teachers, won’t it be pretty easy to put 2 and 2 together?

Why does the district insist they be the policyholder? What power do they obtain be declaring themselves such?

Which employee for the district is going to be responsible for receiving, viewing, etc. Protected Health Information? Is the district going to make sure that, whoever this person is, they have a logging mechanism to track this person’s viewing of individual PHI?

How often will those logs be audited?

How are complaints handled if we have complaints about our own PHI being accessed or used by those within and from outside the system?

Does your reporting system have web access? (if yes: Are your firewalls to protect from outsiders accessing my PHI fail-safe?)

Isn’t it true that one of the main reasons the board and administration like your plans compared to MESSA is the ability to access claims information and then remove the benefit levels that are costing too much?

How many different teachers groups does your agency currently cover?

Can you provide a 10 year rate increase and plan coverage history from any of your clients that have been with you that long?
If no, for how long of a time could you provide this data?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Next week make sure to attend at least one of the insurance meetings. You will want to gather as much information as possible about you and your family’s insurance benefits under the district’s new consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs). But I doubt they’ll tell you everything about your new plan.

At the meeting I doubt they’ll tell you that individuals with more comprehensive health insurance (i.e. Super Care/Choices II) are more satisfied with their health plan than individuals in high deductible health plans (HDHPs).

At the meeting I doubt they’ll tell you that individuals with CDHPs and HDHPs are significantly more likely to spend a large share of their income on out-of -pocket health care expenses than those in comprehensive health plans.

At the meeting I doubt they’ll tell you that individuals with CDHPs and HDHPs are significantly more likely to avoid, skip, or delay health care because of costs than are those with more comprehensive health insurance, with problems particularly pronounced among those with health problems or incomes under $50,000.

At the meeting I doubt they’ll tell you that there is evidence that people in CDHPs and HDHPs are more likely to go without care.

All of this information came from a study published in December 2005, by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Check it out yourself: http://www.cmwf.org/usr_doc/fronstin_consumerism_survey.pdf

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Don’t be fooled by Ms. Minnaar’s statements Monday night (January 16, 2006) about scheduling bargaining dates, insurance, or anything else. At our last bargaining session, both parties agreed that the CAC decisions and recommendations could have vast financial ramifications. It was also agreed that bargaining sessions would not be as productive as they might be if major changes to the district were soon to be announced. And that is what apparently is happening Thursday afternoon.

Your bargaining team determined long ago that each team member’s contribution is vital, and that we would not schedule bargaining sessions when all members could not be present. Many of their proposed dates were during our holiday break. Team members were out of town to be with their families or were serving jury duty during the holidays. Other dates proposed by the board’s attorney required team members to miss school. As a team, we long ago told the board’s bargaining team that missing school was to be avoided. We believe in what we do and don’t want to miss school to bargain unless we are close to a possible settlement. Obviously, we’re not close to a possible settlement - especially since recent communication from the board’s attorney stated that the board has not changed it’s proposal.

Be careful about what you believe with respect to statements from Washington. Trusted principals have voiced displeasure with the benefit plan that was forced on them. Their experience with this plan is far different than Ms. Minnaar’s characterization of it.

Remember, as another West Michigan school district’s board member stated about our superintendent in the Grand Rapids Press on October 4, 2005, “Holland has someone who is engaged in open warfare with his employees.” Obviously, this statement can be expanded to include the board and other Washington administrators. Their goal is to take as much as they can from us.

The board illegally imposed their will on us, and recent actions taken by us are showing the board that we are united and unhappy with the next phase of the “Ruga Plan” to destroy our district.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

At Monday night’s board meeting (January 16, 2006), the board again imposed it’s will on us. They again decided what is best for you and your family.

Last November, the board imposed it’s will and limited their monthly insurance contribution. This was after more than six months of negotiating; six months of the HEA continually conceding our proposal, and six months of the board NOT MOVING AT ALL.

Their November imposition wasn’t good enough. Yes, it did cap their costs, and it did meet their stated financial needs. The board’s insurance costs are limited in January (check your Jan. 20 paycheck). Their costs will be the same in February, and their costs will be the same in March, even though the board is demanding a change in our coverage. Their stated reasons for the November imposition were met in November. Monday night’s imposition doesn’t save the district money - it only hurts us by eroding our and our families’ benefit levels. The district won’t allow us to keep the insurance we want, even though their forced change doesn’t save the district. Be certain, that at no time did the district offer to continue the Jan./Feb. insurance imposition past February. They could continue the current arrangement unilaterally right now.

This action shows the callousness that exists. The board is shoving their choice down our throats. It’s not to save money - they guaranteed that in November. What is guaranteed now is that we will have the worst teachers' benefit package in Ottawa County.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

If you missed Monday night’s board meeting (January 16, 2006), you missed some great testimonials about the wonderful things your colleagues are doing everyday to make Holland Public Schools a tremendous place for students. Tammie Kamps, Lisa Voss, Cinda Yonker, Ken Ogle, Nancy Wessels, Jill Wallaker, and Patti Arndt shared personal stories about the wonderful things the professionals they work with do everyday. Patti Dixon also shared some valid concerns about insurance and administrative salaries. Thank you all for being willing to speak out on behalf of your peers and the issues that are important to us and our families. The board’s response was indifference. Some appeared to not be listening, and none offered a bit of thanks or appreciation.

The positive mood of the teachers’ sharing was soured by an attack on teachers by the wife of one of the board members. She accused teachers of threatening and intimidating her and her children. In addition, she claimed that parents are afraid to speak about current bargaining issues because teachers will exact revenge upon their children in the classroom. She used the board’s pulpit to turn, directly face, and insult the teachers in attendance and those who weren’t. She continually used “we,” when referring to the board’s actions and decisions as if she is on the board and speaks on their behalf.

At the end of the public comments section of the meeting, the board president asked other members of the board if there was need for clarification. NO board member spoke. NO board member denounced the attack upon the teachers. NO board member defended the teachers, AND NO board member attempted to distance themselves from the board’s new “spokesperson.” Apparently, the board condones these feelings and attitude. Check the MAC-TV schedule for a rebroadcast of Monday night’s meeting to see the board’s new “spokesperson” in action. If you don’t have access to MAC-TV, please contact Maria Yoder to borrow a video tape copy of the meeting.

HEA members are the heart and soul of Holland Public Schools. As professionals, WE deserve to be treated with respect at our work sites and at the bargaining table. We rely on your continued support.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bargaining Update

On December 14, your team met with the same three members of the board’s team, attorney Barb Ruga, Carol Minnaar, and Kevin Clark. The board rejected our December 12 proposal and the Board’s position did not change from their prior proposals.
The team received ANOTHER three year financial plan from the board. Once again their assumptions have changed, and they admit they will continue to change, especially when the board actually begins to make some responsible management decisions at some, yet undetermined, date in the future.
This week the board’s attorney lectured us on how much she cares and worries about OUR district. The insinuation was that somehow SHE has more concern about the future and the welfare of the district than WE do. Even though her high fees continue to drain unneeded resources from the district, this must somehow empower her with a greater level of caring and dedication than your bargaining team and the teachers who come to serve the students and families of Holland Public Schools each day.
Future bargaining dates will be determined in January.