UE-GE 2011 Contract Information: UE-GE Conference Board, Locals Prepare for Start of Bargaining

GE Health Care
An Unhealthy Choice


Following the decision by General Electric to impose its new "Health Choice" medical plan on exempt salaried employees, the UE-GE Conference Board was unanimous in its condemnation of GE's unilateral action. Here's the resolution adoped by the Conference Board:

On January 1, 2010, GE imposed on its salaried exempt workforce in the U.S., a brand new medical insurance plan, and in the process, simply took away from them both Health Care Preferred (HCP) and Comprehensive Medical Benefits (CMB) which are products of decades of union bargaining. GE calls the new plan “Health Choice”, but of course they took no chances on giving anyone any real choice in the matter. It’s not hard to see why. Health Choice is a supposedly “consumer” driven health plan featuring sky-high deductibles and co-pays. Those stuck in it pay straight out of pocket from the first dollar for hospitalization, doctors, most prescriptions, physical therapy, maternity, and so on, defrayed only by a few hundred dollars (maximum $1000) in a “Health Savings Account”.

In the wage band of $50,000 to $75,000 for example, employees with families are subject to a whopping deductible ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 depending on which of three “options” they choose. If you exhaust the deductible, then you get hit with a 20% copay which will cost from $3,550 to $5,500 more out of pocket before 100% catastrophic coverage finally kicks in. “Catastrophic” is indeed the only way to describe Health Choice.

To add insult to injury, GE is actually charging many employees higher contributions out of pay for this sad excuse for a medical plan than for Health Care Preferred (HCP) in which the vast majority of GE workers are enrolled, and which has no in-network deductible, with 100% payment for most medical services, after reasonable co-pays. Oh yes, and if you happen to smoke, Health Choice hits you with an additional annual contribution of $625. GE shamelessly calls this “lower rates for non-smokers”.

GE claims they want to “empower” employees to “take control” of their healthcare by being more educated consumers and living “healthy lifestyles”. But what this is really all about is money. Imposing Health Choice on GE workers will do nothing to lower overall health care costs. What it will do is to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from GE employees to the Company.

As to healthy lifestyles, numerous studies of these high deductible plans from such prestigious organizations as the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI), and Commonwealth Fund, reveal that employees forced into plans like Health Choice are “significantly more likely to avoid, skip, or delay health care because of costs” than those with more comprehensive insurance. And the lower your income, or the sicker you are, the worse the problem. This doesn’t lower medical costs in the long run, or produce better health. In fact it does just the opposite!

Health Choice hits the most vulnerable people in GE the hardest – those who are laid off, those with health problems in their families, those who make the least money, and those on fixed incomes such as pre-65 and disability retirees who will be particularly devastated.

What GE is really saying with Health Choice is that medical expenses are no longer primarily their responsibility, but that of GE employees. Their message is that’s it’s your own fault if you or your family members get sick, get injured, have babies, or just get old. In the recent national debate over health care legislation, the Company played no discernable positive role. Instead, as a charter member of the highly profitable health care industry, GE never lifted a finger to break the monopoly grip of private insurance companies over our health care system, by supporting single payer national health insurance, or at least a robust public option to compete with the insurance companies. Rather, their strategy is simply a massive cost dump onto the backs of their employees.

Health Choice represents an entirely unjustified takeaway of huge proportions. Accordingly, the UE-GE Conference Board condemns its imposition on exempt salaried GE employees, and resolves to resist any attempt by GE to spread it to hourly workers, or any other segment of the the GE population. We further resolve to work with other unions in the Coordinated Bargaining Committee (CBC) towards this end.

Adopted Unanimously 3/26/10