Guild, AP continue health insurance bargaining

The News Media Guild and the Associated Press narrowed their differences on health insurance, but still remain far apart, as the union and AP eliminated some provisions from their prior proposals.

The Guild agreed to not have a health reimbursement account that would have offset the cost of higher premiums and proposed a wellness plan that would cost employees $15 month if they didn’t participate in certain activities.

The Guild’s plan is not based on outcomes, however. The AP wants an outcome-based wellness program that costs non-participants $50 a month.

The Guild also eliminated a $1,000 credit that staffers would have received if their spouses or domestic partners were not on AP insurance. The company still wants to force spouses and domestic partners off the AP plan if they have insurance available at work that is expected to meet minimum requirements under the Affordable Care Act or if the coverage isn’t subsidized at all.

“Guild bargainers oppose this AP proposal because we know from our surveys that it will cost some members up to $500 a month in extra expenses in addition to the company’s onerous proposal,” Guild President Martha Waggoner said. “It’s one of those costs that would be invisible to the company while being a big hit to it employees wallets.”

The Guild’s proposal now shifts $4.8 million in costs to union-covered staffers over three years. The AP, which originally proposed shifting $11.46 million to staffers, says a proposal it made Monday now moves $8.18 million to the staff.

The AP’s proposal now includes out-of-pocket maximums of $1,000 less for family coverage and $500 less for individuals. The AP also proposed that out-of-pocket prescription costs count toward the overall maximum instead of being a separate cost.

The AP’s most recent proposal also includes no increases in the monthly premiums on the basic plan for two years and 5 percent in 2016. However, just 5 percent of Guild-covered staffers are on this plan. Premium plan contributions would still increase 25 percent to 63 percent in 2014, then 8 percent in 2015 and 5 percent in 2016.

Guild health-care consultant Sam Camens told the AP that when the company proposal on salary costs is combined with its health care costs, its bottom line would increase just .67 percent over three years, meaning its costs remain almost flat. This doesn’t include outside increases to staffers, such as the costs of kicking spouses and domestic partners off AP insurance in some cases.

The Guild proposal, he said, increases the company’s costs over three years by 1.767 percent.

While the company is offering higher wages, the Guild knows the AP’s increased health care costs would wipe out those pay wages for some staffers. And the two sides remain far apart on issues including forced transfers, expenses and reduced severance.

The AP and the Guild agreed to not bargain Tuesday so both groups could further refine their proposals.