KeepHealthCare.ORG – Jersey City teachers assail district officials over health care plan
JERSEY CITY — Jersey City’s school board on Friday night delayed a vote on a controversial move to change the health insurance plan that covers the public-school district’s employees.
The action came after school workers assailed district officials and school board members for the proposed change. Over 1,000 workers crowded inside a conference room in the district’s headquarters to witness the meeting.
“If I didn’t know better, I would think you think we’re a bunch of fools,” teacher Colleen Kelleher told the board on Friday night.
The proposed change comes on the heels of months of sparring between teachers union officials and the district over the terms of a new contract (the contract was ratified in April.) School employees have previously criticized the district for not telling them during negotiations that they intended to change health plans.
The district has said the change to a self-insurance plan managed by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield would save millions annually. Its worker are now covered by the State Health Benefits Plan.
Many of the two dozen speakers at the meeting focused on a 100-page book given to board members on Friday that explains the benefits of the new plan. Union officials said they had also not received the book until Friday and did not have the time to review it. Board members could not possibly have read it either, they said.
“This is not right. I mean, this is ridiculous,” Bill Murawski, a local union leader and district employee, said as he waved a copy of the benefits book. “How are we supposed to review this stuff in six hours?”
The board gathered for the special meeting to approve the Horizon plan. But after facing more than two hours of criticism from district workers, some of whom shared personal details of health struggles and expressed fear that a new plan would disrupt ongoing medical treatment, the board approved nearly unanimously a motion to postpone a final vote. Board member Mussab Ali, participating by phone, voted no.
Some board members said they believed district employees will support the Horizon plan once they review it.
“I honestly think if they see it they’ll be comfortable with it,” said board member Amy DeGise. “They just haven’t seen it.”
Some of the anger expressed by employees Friday night focused on a different health plan the district had briefly considered before settling on Horizon. The discarded plan offered fewer benefits and its network did not include many of the teachers’ doctors, they said.
Schools Superintendent Marcia V. Lyles apologized to school employees for what they called the “chaos” they’ve experienced since the district in May first announced it wanted to take teachers out of the State Health Benefits Plan and move to a self-insurance plan.
“I was not the architect of this,” Lyles said. “This was not my plan or design. This was not my intention. I did not wish to cause anyone additional anxiety.”
The board meets again on Monday where it intends to vote on the Horizon plan.
Terrence T. McDonald may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @terrencemcd. Find The Jersey Journal on Facebook.