GM fights free health care for blue-collar employees

August 12, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

DETROIT -- As strategies for 1993 bargaining between the United Auto Workers and Big Three automakers begin to unfold, General Motors shows no signs of backing off an emotional demand: an end to virtually free health care for blue-collar workers.

GM's key demands so far:

* Payments in excess of $100 per worker per month for basic medical coverage. UAW workers now pay nothing except for office visit charges and $3 to $5 for prescriptions, if they use traditional Blue Cross coverage.

* Higher out-of-pocket expenses for workers who have perceived health risks, like smoking, than for workers who don't.

* Cuts of 25 percent in weekly payments for sick leaves and disabilities. The average GM assembler on sick leave now makes $390 per week.

GM is convinced, according to a company official who asked not to be named, that soaring costs can be curbed only by making workers more cost-conscious when they shop for health care. That will happen, the official said, only when workers

pick up part of the tab.

"There's a strong feeling about that at the highest levels of the company," the official said.

Currently, health costs add $1,469 to the price of each GM vehicle, compared to $475 for cars built at Japanese-owned, U.S. assembly plants.

Late last month, when GM proposed tougher out-of-pocket health costs for workers, UAW bargainers rejected the idea as silly, and as a ploy to appease white-collar workers.

Last winter, GM forced 180,000 salaried workers and retirees not represented by the UAW to pay more for their health care by:

* Raising deductibles for families with traditional Blue Cross from $250 to $1,800; and

* Imposing copayments for families in health maintenance organizations or preferred provider organizations of more than $100 a month.

At the time, GM promised these sacrifices would be shared by blue-collar workers.

The UAW, however, regards such payments as band-aids that are doomed to failure, and insists on the need for comprehensive, nationwide health care reforms.

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