Monday, January 22, 2007

Teacher's Contract Sticking Point: Health Care

Ken Mirvis has a great column in Friday's Watertown Tab shedding light on the Watertown teacher's contract dispute. About a month or two ago, these red signs proclaiming that "Watertown Educators Deserve a Fair Contract" started cropping up around town and I kept meaning to find out what the controversy was. The sticking point, according to Mirvis, is unsurprisingly, health insurance.

Historically, the town has paid 90 percent of the cost of health insurance, and employees pay 10 percent. Those numbers have no particular significance other than being the historical division.

As we all know, health-care costs are rising at a dramatic and alarming rate. The town would like to see an 80-20 split for its employees, but that amounts to an effective pay cut. Keeping the current split could jeopardize the financial stability of the town.
The difference seems small until you factor in just how much that ten percent amounts to given how expensive health insurance has gotten in recent years. The teachers are justified in fighting a significant reduction in pay, just as the town has an interest in reducing its health care costs.

Any solution, Mirvis says, would just be a band-aid slapped on top of a broken system. The way to fix it, in his opinion is by creating a "well-managed single-payer system that provides a reasonable level of health coverage to every American at a reasonable cost." I'm slowly coming around to that view myself. Mirvis points to the Canadian system in particular as something that, while it has glitches, is more workable and fair than what we have currently. To that, I would just like to add that if Canada spent the same percent of our GDP on heath care as we do currently, they would not experience many of the "glitches" that Mirvis warns about. And Canada, of course, is not the only nation with a single-payer system in the world. In fact, every other industrialized nation has some sort of system of universal heath care. It's about time we joined them.