Christie-Sweeney Plan Is Bad Policy

The Record ( — Sunday, July 3, 2011

Letter to the Editor

Governor Christie and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney have struck a deal that will eliminate New Jersey public workers' rights to bargain over health care and impose thousands of dollars of health care premiums on those workers. This is bad policy.

In fact, this is a problem for every New Jerseyan, not just for public workers. By dictating rather than negotiating health care benefits for the more than 800,000 people in the state health benefits plan, the governor and Sweeney are setting a precedent to keep consumers out of the discussion.

The current Christie/Sweeney deal will require public workers and retirees to pay between 14 percent and 35 percent of their health care premiums. If they think our public workers should be paying up to 35 percent of their premiums, how much are they going to expect non-public workers to pay? Also, when our lower-income public workers are unable to afford health care coverage, they will still need health care.

The state health benefits plan is a significant part of the state's health care system. Ill-conceived cuts and changes have the potential to send more people unnecessarily to emergency rooms and will ultimately destabilize hospitals and medical delivery in the state, as well as cause actual health care costs to rise.

The proposal also fails to address rising health care costs. Instead, it merely shifts costs from public employers to public employees, fails to base employee cost-sharing on a realistic affordability standard and will exacerbate the already very difficult, if not impossible, health care landscape for thousands of New Jersey families.

The Communications Workers of America, the largest of the state employee unions, has proposed a collectively bargained health care reform plan. Under CWA's plan, employees would pay a portion of the plan cost based upon a combination of income level, plan selection and coverage. The CWA proposal would reduce the costs to the state significantly by encouraging generic prescriptions, bulk purchasing of pharmaceuticals, wellness, digital medical records and better management of health care delivery, while progressively and fairly doubling employee contributions over time.

The CWA proposal is better health care policy, and it would be provided through collective bargaining, not through unilateral imposition or legislation that would make such collective bargaining illegal.

Phyllis Salowe-Kaye
Newark, June 17

The writer is executive director New Jersey Citizen Action, an advocacy group.

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