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Do you have a question for Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa about our union? Click here to submit your question for consideration. Each week,

President Hoffa will select a different question to answer. Note: Questions must include the member's name and local union number, and all questions posted will include the member's first name (only) and local union number in the posting. Submissions that do not include that information will not be considered for posting.

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Since our health plan changed, reducing our coverage, we have seen a drastic increase in our prescription and health care costs. For instance, four prescriptions that used to cost me $40 for a three-month supply now cost $195.95. Our health coverage decrease is also costing us a lot more out of our own pockets.

Also, our health coverage in Springfield, MO, where I live, is not as good as it is in the St. Louis area. We only have two hospitals here, and our health plan will only let us go to one hospital and only to the doctors that practice at that hospital. In St. Louis, members have approximately six to eight hospitals to choose from and it seems like their health and prescription coverage is a lot better than ours.

I understand that our retirement plan has been adjusted back and is better than it was. I think our health care plan needs to be adjusted as well. If I remember correctly, Mr. Hoffa, you made a statement that our last contract was the best we had ever negotiated, but I feel our health coverage still needs to be addressed, as our retirement plan was.

I enjoy being a Teamster and wouldn’t have it any other way. I would like to see our membership increase, but it’s hard to talk to a non-union person about joining the Teamster family when they hear about our health care coverage problems and our out-of-pocket health expenses.

--Ronald, Local 600
 

Dear Ronald,

Your letter touches on issues that are affecting many of our members and millions of workers around the country—the national health care crisis. This crisis is affecting every worker, every union, and every collective bargaining agreement. The main cause is out-of-control health care costs caused by a corporate dominated medical-industrial complex, and an Administration and Congress in Washington that refuses to take serious action.

It is true that the UPS contract negotiated in 2002 was the best contract ever. It has a rich wage and benefit package that contains a significant increase over the 1997 contract. The problem is that once that contract was settled, the stock market collapsed and health care costsdriven primarily the greed of the pharmaceutical companies and the growing number of uninsuredskyrocketed. So every extra dollar that we negotiated in benefits paid for less than it would have in years previous. When we negotiated that contract, we were told by actuaries that what we had negotiated would be sufficient to both maintain pensions and health benefits. Their predictions turned out to be wrong.

The astronomical rise in health care costs is the result of forces beyond the union's control, but the government could control these forces and has not. That is one of the principal reasons we backed John Kerry for president. Kerry promised to propose a national health care plan that would have curbed these ever rising costs. He also promised to support our efforts to win relief for our Teamster pension plans that were battered by the stock market collapse.

The other thing you should be aware of is that while the Teamsters Union negotiates contracts, it does not provide you your health or pension benefits. In your case, those are handled by the Central States Health and Pension Funds. Those are funds that are administered by both employee and employer trustees as mandated by federal law and are managed solely on behalf of the member participants. In these circumstances, the trustees of the various health funds that provide benefits to Teamsters members are legally obligated to balance income and expense with the goal of maintaining the financial stability of these important benefit funds. Therefore, cost cutting measures are necessary to protect the funds' ability to provide the optimum level of benefits under adverse economic circumstances. Failure to make necessary changes as early as possible can lead to catastrophic problems such as the failure of the fund.

The changes at the Central States Health Fund result from decisions made by the trustees of the fund to deal with these serious economic problems. As you are aware, the International Union is not happy about these changes, but we also recognize that had changes not been made, members could have lost health coverage completely. Moreover, the International continues to initiate programs to control health insurance costs for Teamster members. The International Union has created group purchasing coalitions by endorsing national medical/dental/prescription/vision insurance providers for discounts that various Teamster health funds can take part in. We are strong supporters of such advocacy groups as the National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC) that espouse the cause of universal health care for all Americans. The International Union also holds educational conferences for the more than 450 health/pension trust funds that cover Teamster members so these funds can come together under one umbrella and explore ways of leveraging their collective strength when purchasing health care and pension services. Finally, the International is involved every day in fighting on Capitol Hill to solve the twin problems of the health care and pensions crises.

As far as the provider network in your area, the trustees of the fund or health plan choose a provider network of participating hospitals and physicians on the basis of cost effectiveness and member accessibility. You must contact the health fund expressing your concerns on the current provider network and request the inclusion of other health providers within your geographical area.

Thank you for contacting me.

In solidarity,

Jim Hoffa
Teamsters General President

 

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