AFL-CIO Considers Its Own Cure to Health-Care Crisis

Article excerpt

Health-care reform may be ailing in Washington, but the largest labor organization in the country has some ideas of its own to cure medical insurance woes.

The AFL-CIO is actively exploring the possibility of establishing a supplemental health-care coverage program of its own.

The plan would offer at least basic coverage to perhaps as many as 1.5 million union members whose present contracts do not provide medical benefits to them or to their families.

At least 2 million retired union members, as well as associate members, also would be eligible, a labor official said in a recent interview. Associate members include pro-union employees of companies where organizing drives have failed or are in progress.

The idea is being pursued by Union Privilege, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, which provides union members with consumer benefits and services. Among other features, Union Privilege offers accidental death insurance and a prescription drug plan. UP's MasterCard credit card is held by 2.35 million union members.

"We are looking at a no-frills health insurance program and are talking to providers who might develop some kind of program for us, or we might create one of our own," said Charles McDonald, UP president.

McDonald declined to identify the providers but did say UP has conferred with administrators of union welfare plans about how to assist members "not having first dollar coverage or coverage for dependents."

Medical coverage, McDonald says, often is denied or is insufficient to cover union members employed at hazardous occupations. Additionally, unions representing service and communications workers would be likely candidates for "a health care supplement for the workplace," McDonald said.

Union members currently are covered by a variety of plans. The nearly 700,000 members of the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), for example, are covered through 200 local pension and welfare funds in the United States and Canada, which negotiate coverage with employers.

LIUNA's coverage, said union spokesman Carl Fillichio, ranges from "basic catastrophic coverage to `Cadillac' plans, which include dental and vision coverage as well as medical. …