‘Double whammy’: teachers strike as healthcare costs cut into earnings

Legislative pushings to change health and pension expenses on to individual teachers leave many with less take-home pay than five years ago

A new wave of educator strikes has highlighted a growing problem for all US workers- growing health expenses which have become a” hungry tapeworm” on Americans’ wages.

In the most expensive health system in the world and the only industrialized nation without universal healthcare, more than 177 million Americans get health insurance through an employer. But insurance is rarely free.

” They’ve changed the healthcare costs and the pension expenses on to employees, so employees are making less and they’re spending less ,” told Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million members.” It’s a double whammy .”

Conservative legislatures’ move to change health and pension expenses on to individual teachers entails in some states, educators take home less pay than they did five years ago.

The most high-profile instance is West Virginia, where educators earned a 5% raise after a nine-day wildcat strike. Before that, they earned less take-home pay than in 2012 because of rising health costs.

Over the last decade, private insurance companies have increasingly demanded more “cost-sharing” from patients, a euphemism for more fund out of people’s pockets. This week teachers in Oklahoma became the most recent to take industrial action.

In 10 years, out-of-pocket expenses have increased dramatically for all Americans. From 2005 to 2015, the average amount of money people have to pay themselves before insurance cover kicks in grew from $303 to $1,505. Once insurance starts paying, people are liable for another expense, called ” coinsurance “. That grew from $134 to $253, on average. Overall, cost-sharing rose 66% in 10 years, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.

In the last decade, employees’ contract negotiations have orbited around health costs. What will an employer pay? Can the employee take on more?

” They are centre stage in every contract negotiation ,” told Weingarten.” I don’t know a contract negotiation where they haven’t been centre stage .”

So extreme is the situation that a group of billionaires have set out “disrupt” health insurance because it would help their bottom line. Among them was investor Warren Buffett, who called health costs a” a hungry tapeworm on the American economy “.

Increasing health expenses are not unique to teachers- Americans across the labor spectra have paid more out-of-pocket for healthcare. However, conservative policies have inadvertently made them the most visible victims.

In countries such as Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wisconsin, conservative parliaments pushed for all teacher pay creates to go through the statehouse. Now, with mounting labor actions, it’s those same statehouses that face pitched battles to improve teacher benefits.

” The right wing thought if this would happen we would be less politically engaged ,” told Weingarten.” But this requires you to be more politically engaged .”

In Jersey City, New Jersey, teachers quoth the burden of health expenses when they went on strike in mid-March. It was the first strike in 20 years.

” We want nothing more than to get back to run under a contract that respects the expertise of our members and the need for affordable healthcare ,” said the teacher union chairman, Ronald Greco, according to NJ.com. Educator are required to pay between 3% and 35% of their pay to health insurance, thanks to a recent nation law.

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A student enters the Academy I middle school in Jersey City, New Jersey, as teachers strike on 16 March. Photograph: Julio Cortez/ AP

In Oklahoma, where teachers have the lowest median teacher pay of any state, a walkout started Monday. The state paying off for health insurance for employees. Benefits for their families cost extra, but that care is constantly under threat.

” The state will start complaining that the cost of healthcare maintains rising and it’s becoming burdensome ,” told Ed Allen, the president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers chapter.” They will do comparisons with other states and say their salaries are much higher, but they don’t pay as much on the healthcare .”

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