856 Members hold big insurance accountable at public hearing

Hotel and Public Sector Local 856 members at the health rate hearing on February 1, 2017 in San Francisco.

Hotel and public sector Local 856 members forcing transparency and accountability at the public health care rate hearing in San Francisco on February 1, 2017.

The health insurance industry was forced to face more than 1200 union members last month to hear devastating real-life impacts outrageous rate hikes have had on working families’ ability to maintain a living in California.

The public hearing, held in San Francisco on February 1, came thanks to a 2015 law co-sponsored by the Teamsters aimed at creating accountability and transparency in the health insurance industry. The law has two main components: it compels insurers who sell to big purchasers (like union trust funds and employer-sponsored plans) to provide the underlying claims (or aggregated data) used to set rates, and it also mandates annual public hearings on the data.

“Unbelievably, wage increases can actually lead to smaller paychecks after health insurance companies take their cut,” said 856 Political Director Trish Blinstrub. “However, when these companies are made to provide data to justify prices, we’ve seen that they’re less aggressive in increasing their rates.”

Contra Costa County 856 Members Lucero Torres and Abnesh Kishore joined the stream of union members who addressed the hearing. Both spoke of how prior to gaining Teamster representation last year and securing lower insurance rates through their 856 contract, health insurance costs took such a big of a slice of take-home pay, many of their colleagues had to opt-out of their employer’s health insurance coverage.

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore also attended at Local 856’s invitation, telling the crowd that spiking insurance rates have made it difficult to recruit and retain employees in the county because people cannot afford to live there and pay for insurance. 

In addition, Teamsters 856 members from the City of Fremont and the Fairmont San Francisco participated in the event, lobbying Assemblymembers Phil Ting and David Chiu at their nearby offices, impressing the importance of holding big insurance’s feet to the fire.

“Teamsters 856 members are active and engaged in the process,” said Blinstrub. “Now we can see the data, ask questions, and it’s making a real difference.”

Big pharma is the next target for transparency. Both the California Department of Managed Health’s analysis and California Labor Federation’s independent analysis of the insurer-provided data found prescription drug costs to be the major culprit of increases. And this legislative session, Labor will back a bill (SB 17) that will force the same kind of accountability for the pharmaceutical industry.

Let’s drive down drug and health insurance costs together! Contact Trish Blinstrub at 650 266 7730 or Trish@ibt856.org for more information on what you can do.