Holding Health Insurance Companies Accountable

Secretary-Treasurer Peter Finn (far right) with Marin General Hospital members and reps at the Technical Unit contract ratification, where healthcare was a key issue in negotiations.

One of the things that we are most passionate about is preserving access to quality, affordable healthcare. To do that, we must hold health insurance companies accountable by pushing for transparency to stop unjustifiable rate hikes. Historically, health insurance companies have not been required to provide underlying data to justify their rate increases and even so-called “non-profit” insurance vendors seem more concerned with padding the bottom line than offering affordable, quality healthcare. For example, the State of California recently stripped Blue Shield of its non-profit status because it banked billions of dollars in reserves while implementing huge rate hikes. The unfortunate results of this lack of healthcare transparency are clear. The California Labor Federation reports that “premiums for employer health insurance plans have risen 185% since 2002, more than five times the increase in the state’s overall inflation.”

Why this matters to us as Union members
These massive increases in healthcare premiums charged by insurance companies force more dollars to be allocated to healthcare costs, and in turn, this puts downward pressure on wages. In addition to hurting wages, net take-home pay is also threatened by these big rate increases as employers attempt to shift the cost of healthcare to employees through higher monthly premiums or lower benefit levels. Although we represent members at nearly 200 employers in diverse industries throughout both the private and public sector, fighting the shifting of healthcare costs is on top of the bargaining priority list at virtually every table where we are in contract negotiations.

Union sponsored law forces more transparency
While union negotiating teams have had to deal with the results of the healthcare crisis at the bargaining table, and until such time when there is a comprehensive solution such as Medicare for All, the fight for incremental change is happening in Washington, D.C. and at the State Capitol. While the Affordable Care Act certainly expands access to healthcare and includes other positives, unfortunately the law has done nothing to curtail insurance company rate abuses. Here in California, a new law authored by San Francisco based State Senator Mark Leno and co-sponsored by the Teamsters, creates more transparency. The law requires insurance companies to disclose the underlying claims (or aggregated) data used to calculate premiums for large group healthcare purchasers such as Union Trust Funds and other big health plans that 856 members participate in. The goal of this improved transparency is to allow for a better understanding of what is driving costs and to improve our bargaining effectiveness with insurance companies.

Teamsters 856 Trust Fund using data analytics

The new law requires insurance companies to provide more data, however, translating that data into usable information is a different matter. In partnership with other Union Health Funds, the Local 856 Trust Fund is implementing data analytics technology to create true transparency. Jim Rein, of Rael & Letson, the consultant to the Local 856 Trust Fund in charge of negotiating rates with insurance companies, explains the benefits of these new tools this way: “Data analytics provides true transparency to both financial and clinical health plan information to both validate information and provide better information and insight for decision making. It allows the Trust Fund to hold health plan vendors accountable.”

A step in the right direction

A comprehensive healthcare solution needed
While the healthcare crisis persists and we expect the issue to continue to dominate bargaining in the coming years, forcing insurance companies to be more transparent is certainly a step in the right direction. As we push for a comprehensive long-term healthcare solution, we will continue to fight for achievable incremental change that can make a difference.