President's Corner

 

November 2018 Improving Benefits for Local 150 Members and Families

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President’s Corner

I have been happy to deliver to Local 150 members good news on benefits several times already this year. This spring, we received forecasts that our Pension Fund will return to the “green zone” in 2019, several years earlier than expected. Two months ago, I shared details about the free members-only benefit program that we assembled as part of the Midwest Coalition of Labor, which gives members access to life insurance, legal assistance, roadside assistance, identity recovery, and more at no additional cost. After having to be the bearer of so much bad news while we were mired in the depths of the Great Recession, it truly is a pleasure to share good news on benefit enhancements, and I am able to report on even more enhancements we are currently making to members’ health and welfare benefits.

Many members have come to rely upon the Family Supplemental Benefit (FSB) to cover annual costs for glasses, contacts, or dental work that exceed the maximum benefit. We were able to increase our dental and vision coverage last year, but the cost of glasses seems to be growing every year, and many families with children who need glasses tend to exhaust their entire FSB each year just to pay for glasses.

All Health Plan Marketplace plans will see the FSB increase to $2,000 per year for the plan year beginning on April 1, 2019.  This is a big deal no matter which Marketplace plan you are in, but an even bigger boost for the lower-cost plans. Members with Plan A previously had a $1,500 benefit, but the Bronze Plan included only a $250 annual benefit. Again, the new benefit level will be $2,000 for all Marketplace plans. The FSB has always been one of our most popular benefits, and this increase will go a long way to cover eligible costs and make the more inexpensive Marketplace plans a more attractive option during Open Enrollment.

Throughout the years, I have gotten a lot of questions from members about making it easier to get physical therapy, and I’ve got good news. In October, we launched a partnership with ATI Physical Therapy that provides free physical therapy service to members and families. If you’ve been living with pain, this is a new way to take care of it before it becomes something more serious. Eligible active and retired members and their dependents can visit any ATI location to get an assessment and treatment without co-pays, bills, or referrals.  If you are over 65 and on Medicare, you will need to get a referral from an M.D. or D.O. to use the plan, but it will still cost nothing. Call (833) ATI-0001 for more information on this great new benefit.

Every eligible active participant in the Health and Welfare Fund who currently qualifies for a death benefit will see that benefit increase from $30,000 up to $40,000; effective January 1, 2019. The Trustees previously enhanced this benefit only a few years ago, but as the cost of funerals continues to increase, we want to make sure that a tragic loss doesn’t create a financial crisis for any Local 150 family.

One of the best ways to save money when purchasing benefits is to use economies of scale; that is, the more people for whom you purchase benefits, the lower the per-person price you can negotiate. As a large plan, we have always been able to save money because of this, and our recent experience purchasing members-only benefits along with other large unions has further demonstrated the success of using economies of scale.

Since closing our on-site pharmacy in Countryside, our Fund has saved millions of dollars by using the CVS/caremark network for retail and mail-order prescriptions. In the past year or so, our International Union has found a way to save even more by pooling together members and families from across North America. On January 1, we will begin using a new pharmacy benefit manager called OptumRx. Optum’s preferred retail prescription network is still CVS/caremark, so the practical changes should be minimal, but the savings will be massive.

In the first three years using Optum, our Fund will save at least $50 million compared to the use of CVS/caremark as our pharmacy benefit manager, which was already delivering considerable savings. Members will receive more information later this year as we approach the transition. As Trustees, we always look for ways to save money because it allows us to control benefit costs and enhance benefit levels. The benefit increases that I laid out above come as a result of our efforts to operate our healthcare plans as efficiently as possible, and in what follows, Marketplace users can see still another example of how cost savings will benefit them.

As we created the Marketplace and started using the “credit bank” system to allow members to purchase their own plans, there has always been a portion of members’ contributions coming in that is directed to support the Retiree Welfare Plan. Over the past three years, that number has gone from 23.7 percent to 22.6 percent to a new low of 20 percent for the coming year. More and more of each active member’s contributions is going directly into his or her credit bank because of the programs that have been put in place to streamline our systems.

I want to touch on a change to the qualifications for the Retiree Welfare Plan that will ensure fairness and prohibit opportunistic individuals from gaming our system for their own benefit and our collective expense. For many years, retirees hoping to receive retiree healthcare were required to continually participate in the plan for a minimum of 10 years, and for a minimum of three years leading up to their retirement date. What we found was that members would leave the industry – sometimes for decades – only to return a few years before retirement age in search of heavily-subsidized healthcare.

That system carried potential for abuse, and it has been changed. Today, retirees must have 10 years of continuous eligibility immediately prior to retirement or continuous coverage since the creation of the Marketplace on April 1, 2016, whichever is less; and a minimum of 800 work hours per plan year over the five years leading up to retirement. All other eligibility requirements remain, but updates to these criteria will protect the Retiree Welfare Plan from being taken advantage of and will maintain the lowest possible costs for participating eligible members.

I can tell you as a Trustee for almost 20 years that our healthcare and retirement benefits are complex, and in an environment like ours where things are always changing, it is critically important that members try as much as possible to understand the details of their benefits. That is why we started to hold Health Fairs throughout the Districts. We provide members with some of the most outstanding benefits in the industry, and we want you and your families to make use of everything you have. These fairs offer as much personalized attention as you need to understand all of the offerings that you have as a member of Local 150. Those Health Fairs will be running from November until January, and the dates are listed on page 23. Please come out to one of the Health Fairs near you, and bring your spouse with you, because I’ve never met a person who hasn’t walked out more educated and satisfied with their benefits than when they walked in.

Finally, if you thought I was going to make it through the entire column without touching on politics, you were almost right. We’ve got an important election on November 6. We’ve mailed out endorsement lists to every member. Find time to get out and vote. The outcomes of these elections are far too important to sit on the sidelines. I’ll report on the outcomes and what they mean for Local 150 in next month’s column. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the time with your families, friends, and loved ones.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall.