October 22, 2021
This morning the last best offers from both the Employer and Employee commissioners were submitted. The outstanding issues (out-of-pocket funding and clarification of how a statewide grievance procedure would be implemented) will go to an Arbitration Panel the week of Nov. 1.
You can find the last best offers here.
September 30, 2021
Fact Finders Report Available
On September 29, 2021 the Commission held a nine hour mediation which was unsuccessful. A binding arbitration hearing is set for early November.
You can find the Fact Finders Report here.
August 31, 2021
Informational Videos for School Board Members
We just posted a series of videos to our YouTube Channel that cover a variety of topics that are important for school board members and help to explain the goals and positions of the Employer Commissioners during this round of bargaining.
Please take a moment to view the videos - they will really help you to understand the issues that are being discussed at the bargaining table and the position of the employer commissioners.
August 20, 2021
Status of Bargaining After Fact Finding
The Commission on Statewide Public School Employee Health Benefits completed three days of fact finding on Thursday, August 12. Legal briefs have been filed by both teams and a fact finding report will be issued no later than September 15, 2021. This is a brief summary of what occurred. The Employer Commissioners will provide a more complete review of the fact finding meeting in the next several days.
Employer Commissioner Testimony
The theme of the Employer Commissioner’s testimony centered around:
the value and cost of the benefits and desire of all to preserve the quality and financial solvency of the plans
the disproportionate burden of premium and OOP share since the launch of new healthcare plans (including the healthcare recapture of 2018-19) and more recently, the terms of the Arbitrator’s award which increased the actuarial values of the plans from 94-95% with the VHP plan, now to 97-98%
the competing priorities for local funding for student programming/equity and infrastructure needs
users of healthcare can make informed decisions that will influence future plan costs for all
the long-term view that benefits which are competitive and comparative to other public/private employers should be sustainable into the future.
Employer Commissioners presented thirteen witnesses that spoke to all of the issues listed above.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald – Co-Chair of Commission on Public School Employee Health Benefits, former 15-year member South Burlington School Board; former VEHI Board member
Laura Soares – Employer commissioner and retired President VEHI
Steve May - Senior HR and Benefits Consultant at Hickok & Boardman hired by Employer Commissioner to provide data analysis
Mark Koenig – Employer commissioner and member Addison Northwest School Board
Patrick Healy – Employer commissioner and chair Twinfield School Board
Michael Pieciak – Vermont State Commissioner of Department of Financial Regulation
Ethan LaTour - Deputy Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Finance & Management.
Jeff Carr – President and Senior Economist at Economic and Policy Resources hired by Employer Commissioners
Richard Pembroke - Director of Fiscal Services Springfield SD
Nathan Lavery – Senior Director of Finance Burlington School District
Bridget Burkhardt – Chair, South Burlington School Board
Jeanne Collins - Superintendent, Addison
Neil Odell – President, VSBA, member of Norwich and Dresden School Boards
Employee Commission Testimony
The themes of witnesses provided by the Vermont NEA in fact-finding centered around:
the one-time influx of Federal funds associated with COVID which might be used to offset other budget needs at the local level,
rising costs of healthcare in the U.S. with an emphasis on universal healthcare systems outside the country as potential new models,
the difficulty that many Vermonters have with any premium or OOP expense with the potential to forego necessary healthcare
that the level of healthcare benefits available to public school employees is implicitly supported by voters when they pass school budgets
The union presented seven witnesses and one rebuttal witness. Those witnesses were:
Jack Hoffman - Policy analyst at Public Assets Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Montpelier
Jeff Fannon – Executive Director, VT-NEA
Steve Kappel – Principal, Policy Integrity LLC; hired by VT-NEA as data analyst
Brian Robertson, PhD – Vice-President Research at Market Decisions Research hired by VT-NEA as primary investigator on “VT-NEA Member and Family Health Coverage Survey”
Rob Raskovitz – Uniserv Director VT-NEA
Dr. David Himmelstein, M.D.- Staff Physician Montefiore Medical Center, New York; Research Associate Public Consumer Health research Group; hired by VT-NEA
Mike Fisher – Vermont Legal Aid Chief Health Advocate
Rebuttal Witness: Adam Norton – Strategic Analyst Vermont State Employees Association
July 14, 2021
Status of Bargaining After Mediation
The Employer and Employee Commissioners met on July 7 for mediation. In the initial proposals, the Employee Commissioners raised four issues and the Employer Commissioners raised six; there was shared overlap on three of those issues. Of these, agreement was reached on two of those issues during negotiation – a three-year term for the decisions coming out of this current round of bargaining and language on domestic partnerships.
Licensed employees pay 20% of the Gold CDHP premium and prorated shared for any of the other three VEHI plans.
Non-Licensed employees will be increasing their premiums by 2% the last year of the arbitrator’s award up to no more than 20% share level
Employer Commission Proposal
Licensed employees: A 1% increase in Year 2 and a 1% increase in Year 3 of the 3-year contract.
Any unlicensed employee not at 20% moves 2% closer to 20% each year but no less than 15% in year one, and last day of contract all employees at the same premium share.
An additional 1% increase if insurance premiums increase by more than 10%.
The Employee Commissioners adjusted their offer slightly during mediation:
Any employee earning less than $35,000/year would pay a 12% premium share.
Any employee earning between $35,000 and $70,000/year would pay a 16% premium share.
Any employee earning over $70,000/year would pay a 18% premium share.
This proposed salary scale does not take into account the part-time or full-time status of the employee; any other income associated with employment by school districts nor the employee's total household income.
OUT OF POCKET EXPENSES
Under the Arbitrator’s award, employers are liable for HRA first dollar OOP expenses up to $2,100/$2,200 for single plans and $4,200/$4,400 for family (and other plans) resulting in last dollar employee responsibility of $300-400 and $600-800, respectively. There is currently an HSA option on Silver CDHP plan only.
Employer Commission Proposal:
The employer offers an employee on a single plan an HRA or HSA (employee choice) of first dollar OOP $1,080.
The employer offers an employee on a family (or other) plan an HRA or HSA (employee choice) of first dollar OOP $2,160.
This formula would result in the employers paying up to 43% of all out-of-pocket expenses. This offer made during mediation represents a 20% increase over the employer proposal given during negotiations.
Employee Commission Proposal:
Any employee earning less than $35,000/year on a single plan would have the employer pay first dollar OOP of $2,400.
Any employee earning between $35,000 and $70,000/year on a single plan would have the employer pay first dollar OOP of $2,300.
Any employee earning over $70,000/year on a single plan would have the employer pay first dollar OOP of $2,200.
Any employee earning less than $35,000/year on a family (or other) plan would have the employer pay first dollar OOP of $4,800.
Any employee earning between $35,000 and $70,000/year on a family (or other) plan would have the employer pay first dollar OOP of $4,600.
Any employee earning between over $70,000/year on a family (or other) plan would have the employer pay first dollar OOP of $4,400.
This formula would result in the employers paying between 88% and 96% of all out-of-pocket expenses.
Current: Employees need to work at least 17.5 hours/week to be eligible for health care benefits.
The Employer Commissioners asked during mediation to revise these numbers to 18.75 hours/week minimum to receive benefits and full-time defined as 37.5 hours/week.
The Employee Commissioners are not interested in making any change to the last arbitration imposed ruling of 17.5 hours/week.
The revised state statute governing this Commission notes that the Commissioners may discuss the creation of a grievance process. Given that this is a contract negotiated at the state level and is imposed on all school districts, local school districts or supervisory unions do not have the authority to hear grievances on or make interpretations to any agreement or contract arising from this Commission. The Employer Commissioners proposed a framework for a grievance process, but stated during mediation that they were open to alternative means of handling this matter in a centralized fashion. The Employee Commissioners stated they see no need to provide or discuss any such process and rejected the offer without any comment nor offered any counter proposal.
The revised state statute governing this Commission forbids an employee to receive a payment for not taking any healthcare benefit options if that employee is covered by a spouse or domestic partner under another VEHI plan (aka, no “double-dipping”).
During mediation, the Employer Commissioners offered to continue the practice of CIL, but to standardize a cap on the amount of money any district could offer. The Employee Commissioners rejected the offer without any comment nor offered any counter proposal.
July 12, 2021
Statewide Healthcare Negotiations In the News
With statewide school employee healthcare negotiations underway it's been the topic of recent news coverage.
June 15, 2021: For Immediate Release
Healthcare Benefits for Vermont's Educators: Round 2
Contact: Elizabeth Fitzgerald
Co-Chair Vermont Healthcare Commission
A new round of bargaining regarding public educational employee health care benefits started in April. This current set of talks will affect how the cost of these benefits are shared between employees and taxpayers starting January 1, 2023.
The first round of statewide health care bargaining ended in 2019 with a decision handed down by a single arbitrator without any analysis or explanation and resulted in better health care benefits than what education employees received in previous settlements that were negotiated locally. While no one begrudges these families access to excellent health care benefits, those benefits are part of school budgets, meaning they are paid for by taxpayers. The terms of the arbitrator’s decision mean that taxpayers are paying for at least 80% of premium share and out-ot-pocket costs – a far more generous health benefit than most taxpayers receive from their employers.
The Commissioners representing employers (school districts and taxpayers) are bargaining to resolve the following issues during this current round of negotiations:
Establish fairness and equity between the premium share paid for by taxpayers and the portion covered by educational employees as part of their total employment compensation.
Align the amount of out-of-pocket expenses (e.g., deductibles, co-pays and prescription costs) borne by educational employees with those paid by other Vermonters who do not work in public schools.
Develop an understanding that both employees and taxpayers are responsible for ensuring access to and appropriate use of health care at a reasonable cost.
Find a means by which the education of Vermont's children is not negatively impacted by unsustainable health care costs.
Ensure that the system which provides educational employees their health care benefits does not become another financial albatross like the pension fund.
Specifically, the employer commissioners hope to address and be able to determine the amount of taxpayer financial obligations toward both premium and the employee’s out-of-pocket Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs); establish a grievance process to oversee complaints/concerns raised under the negotiated agreement or arbitration award; address the nature of cash-in-lieu benefit options; and explore the appropriateness of differentiated payment obligations based on income.
Ultimately, a negotiated agreement will be finalized on or before December 15, 2021. The following are critical dates in the process, should they be required:
June 17, 2021
The Employer and Employee Commissioners exchange proposals.
June 28 - 30, 2021
July 7 - 9, 2021
Mediation (This step will be needed if no agreement is reached during negotiations.)
August 10 - 12, 2021
Evidentiary fact-finding hearing (This step will be needed if no agreement is reached during mediation.)
November 1 - 3, 2021
Last/Best offer binding arbitration hearing before a neutral, 3-member panel of American Arbitration Association arbitrators. (This step will be needed if no agreement is reached following fact finding.) Under the statute which created this Commission, the arbitration panel is required to select in its entirety one of the two LBOs presented. The arbitration panel will issue its final and binding award no later than December 15, 2021.
For more information or to share your thoughts, please visit the Employer Commission’s website at: https://www.vthealthbargaining.org