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September 19. 2013 9:13PM

SEA says state not providing info on insurance deductible

CONCORD — The State Employees Association continues to insist the state has failed to provide documentation about its proposed health plan in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement.

A tentative agreement was reached in June that included a 6 percent pay raise for state employees over the next two years. It would be the first raise in five years.

The tentative agreement also called for state workers to pay deductibles for their health care for the first time, although insurance premiums would remain the same.

The SEA’s collective bargain senate rejected the agreement in June. The senate said low-income employees would have to pay more for deductibles than they would receive in a pay raise.

Under the tentative agreement, an individual would have a $500 deductible in 2014 and $750 in 2015, while the family deductible would be $750 in 2014 and $1,000 in 2015. Workers would also receive incentives for choosing lower cost providers.

The union and administration went through mediation earlier this month, but failed to reach an accord and are now in fact-finding.

Thursday the union reiterated its charge that the administration’s negotiating team has failed to provide information detailing how the health insurance changes were developed and how they would not financially harm workers.

“This design (the state’s proposed changes) came out of nowhere and to this date, (the administration’s chief negotiator Matt) Newland has been unwilling to give us well-documented, supporting evidence that employees would not be harmed,” said Linda Huard, SEA bargaining team member. “If we were to run other state programs with as little information as they’ve put into these negotiations, we’d be sued by countless taxpayers claiming foul play.”

But the governor’s office said it believes an agreement can be reached within the confines of the budget approved in June.

“Governor Hassan greatly appreciates the sacrifices made by New Hampshire’s hard-working state employees throughout the recession, which is why she fought to include the first cost-of-living increase in five years in the new state budget,” said Hassan’s Communications Director Marc Goldberg. “She continues to believe a fair agreement can be reached within the constraints of the budget that will provide a critical cost-of-living increase to state employees while reducing health care costs and strengthening our state’s financial outlook.”

The union said in a news release that over the last five years the workforce has been reduced by 2 percent and the out-of-pocket health care costs have doubled for state workers.

“The state’s attitude about our losses seems to be ‘it’s in the past, we can do nothing about it,” said Jim Nall, SEA’s bargaining team chairman. “But workers still struggle with all of the pay losses, and our agencies still struggle to hire qualified employees. Critical services are suffering. There aren’t enough employees yet we still try hard each day to meet our missions. The governor needs to understand — things have gone too far backwards.”
 
SEA President Diana Lacey said the union hoped the governor would have intervened and ordered her negotiators to provide the information the union requested, but that was not the case and instead precious time has been wasted.

Under the tentative agreement, the new health plan will go into effect Jan. 1.

grayno@unionleader.com


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