October 22, 2014
Off the Record

Dillon plan shows no fear

By Jim Grisso|Special to the Independent
Email Jim
Posted 8/5/09

All I can say is Andy Dillon has guts. Real guts.

For any politician, let alone a leading Democrat, to go up against the labor unions that represent about 4,000 public employees in the state of Michigan is the boldest move I’ve ever seen in following state politics for more than 40 years.

Generally speaking, unions in Michigan may not have the clout they had 25 years ago, but they still swing a heavy bat, especially the MEA, which represents schoolteachers in our state. And everyone knows the Democratic Party is a close friend of labor unions.

All this makes Dillon’s proposal to consolidate the health care plans of all public sector employees an almost unbelievable move politically. It’s even more impressive when you consider he is the Democratic House speaker in the House of Representatives. That makes him the No. 1 guy in the Democrat-controlled House where the majority margin is 67-43.

I not only give the man credit for throwing partisan politics out the statehouse window. I admire him for making a move that has been long overdue in Lansing.

His plan would place all public workers -- state, county, city, school, township, police, fire -- under the same health care umbrella and break up expensive plans like the one provided for teachers by MESSA, which happens to be the insurance affiliate of MEA.

No wonder Lu Battaglieri, MEA executive director, called Dillon’s plan “an act of war.” Everyone knows the MEA is considered one of the Democratic Party’s core supporters.

I’ve personally known people in virtually every phase of the public workforce -- including school bus drivers, teachers, cops, city managers, road commissioners, township supervisors, even a governor or two. Generally, they’re hard workers and deserve just compensation.

But when you consider Michigan’s near disastrous economic condition (projected $1.7 billion deficit in 2010), something has to give. Andy Dillon knows that, and he‘s on a mission to make it happen. He says his health care consolidation plan can save between $700 million to $900 million annually.

Consider the following number uncovered by the Detroit Free Press: public employees’ health care plans cost $4,000 more annually per family policy than the plans of people working in the private sector.

Besides a huge pool to give the state strong negotiating leverage with insurance companies, there would have to be cuts in benefits and/or requirements that public employees pay more out of pocket to keep their coverage. Based on 4,000 policyholders in the pool, if they cut the average cost by $2,000 as suggested, it would amount to a total savings of $800 million year.

Not to single out school employees, but according to Standard and Poor’s most recent survey, the cost of Michigan school employee benefits in 2006 -- health care plus retirement -- was 40% higher than the national average.

Kevin Elsewhere (R-Bellaire), House Minority leader, called Dillon’s move bold, “in part because it is being offered by an entrenched Democrat.” Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) said Dillon’s plan would receive a warm welcome in the Senate.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, is reportedly expressing skepticism at this point in the game. There’s no question the unions will put some heavy-duty pressure on her to stop the measure. Which way you gonna lean, Guv?

Dillon’s goal, in his own words: “Plans (provided to public employees) should be similar in design and average cost share as the health care benefit plans offered to the majority of the state’s private sector employees and retirees.”

A gutsy goal.

Go for it, Mr. Dillon.

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