Union at odds with schools on insurance

August 03, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Some Anne Arundel County teachers union members and directors have initiated a grievance with the school system over a proposed change in one of its health care administrators, hoping to return to bargaining.

"We've taken many, many phone calls from people that are very upset that we have not had the opportunity to put this on the table to talk about it," said Sheila Finlayson, president of the union.

School officials have suggested switching to United Healthcare's "preferred provider" program from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, which nearly half of the school system's more than 10,000 employees use. The new contract would save more than $1.4 million in its first six months and provide a superior product, officials said.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Tuesday's Anne Arundel edition incorrectly reported who participated in the bid selection of a proposed new health care administrator for the Anne Arundel County schools system. Although seven people, including representatives of the school system's four bargaining units, reviewed the proposals, only six - two from bargaining units - interviewed and scored the final candidates. The Sun regrets the error.

School board members will discuss the proposed change at its meeting tomorrow.

Union representatives say CareFirst is specifically named in the contract ratified by teachers union members. As a result, they say any changes require concurrence from the union or further negotiation.

The school system does not agree that a switch would violate the contract, said Synthia Shilling, assistant superintendent for legal and personnel services.

She described language in the agreement that refers to changes in providers as outdated, because the school system is self-insured, bearing the cost of its employees' claims.

"Any language that references a provider references us," Shilling said.

As of yesterday afternoon, 11 people were part of the complaint. Some members have learned that their physicians or specialists, particularly obstetricians and gynecologists, would not be covered, Finlayson said - a big shortcoming when the majority of members are women, she added.

"There just seems to be a lot of confusion about what kind of coverage we're going to be receiving," Finlayson said.

School officials have said the list of physicians will increase when Minnesota-based United Healthcare completes a planned merger with Mid-Atlantic Medical Services Inc. of Rockville.

Lin Blackman, the school system's director of human resources, said, "United is committed to aggressively recruit providers that our employees use."

Three human resources staff members and representatives from the system's four bargaining groups, including the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, served on the committee that interviewed and scored the possible administrators, Shilling said.

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