PEF successfully defends insurance opt out benefit for DOCCS members
By SHERRY HALBROOK and RENEE DELGADO
PEF recently negotiated a favorable settlement concerning some PS&T employees at the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) who were eligible to opt-out of the NYS Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP) at the time they were hired.
The Health Insurance Enrollment Opt-out Program, as provided in the 2016-2019 PS&T Contract, allows eligible state employees who have other employer-sponsored group health insurance to opt out of their NYSHIP benefits in exchange for an incentive payment. The annual incentive payment is $1,000 for opting out of individual coverage or $3,000 for opting out of family coverage.
New PS&T employees, and newly benefits-eligible PS&T employees, must enroll in the Opt-out Program before the end of the 56-day waiting period for NYSHIP coverage. Missing this deadline is very costly.
Employees who miss the deadline must enroll in either the Empire Plan or a NYSHIP HMO so that coverage begins no later than April 1 of the plan year and continues through the end of that plan year before they can enroll in the Opt-out Program during the annual option transfer period, and begin receiving the incentive payments in January of the following year. In other words, they must maintain continuous NYSHIP coverage for nine months before becoming eligible again for the Opt-out Program.
This is exactly the situation in which some DOCCS members found themselves because they had incorrectly been told they were ineligible to enroll in the Opt-out Program, or given no information regarding the Opt-out Program, when they were hired.
When Steve Drake, PEF’s labor-management chair at DOCCS, brought this problem to the attention of the PEF Contract Administration Department, it filed a class action contract grievance.
The grievance was quickly settled and the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations agreed to allow the grievants who were hired before November 10, 2017, to enroll in the Opt-out Program retroactively to the beginning of the plan year, which was January 4, 2018, for those on the institution-lag payroll. The grievants hired on or after November 10, 2017, will be allowed to enroll retroactively to their 57th day of employment.
“We are lucky to have the union to negotiate these benefits for us, and to be ready to defend them and insist that our rights under the contract are respected,” Drake said. “You can’t learn everything about your contract and the union in one brief meeting. We should make time to read our contract. Then, if we have questions, we should talk to our PEF steward or our council leader. We may even contact our PEF field representative if we think we might not be receiving our full benefits and rights.”
“This is why PEF exists and why members need to support it,” PEF President Wayne Spence said. “We are constantly working to make our members’ lives better, especially at work.”