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Saving San Francisco wealth with health

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Union officials say city workers’ health costs can be decreased by cutting administrative charges and accurately billing treatments, not charging fees for bad behavior. - GETTY IMAGES
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  • Union officials say city workers’ health costs can be decreased by cutting administrative charges and accurately billing treatments, not charging fees for bad behavior.

When 27 labor agreements come up for negotiations this year, there will be lots of talk about pay raises and concessions. But the conversation also could include incentives to quit smoking, shed some pounds and see the doctor more often.

Mayor Ed Lee kicked off negotiations with labor unions Wednesday morning when he spoke to about 100 leaders of city workers about the state of San Francisco’s budget. And though The City has recently received positive revenue news, Lee emphasized the need for labor concessions — including controlling the rising cost of health care.

How The City’s bargaining team will attempt to slow the rate of rising health care costs remains unknown. But at a Feb. 7 Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said the mayor should negotiate provisions for a healthier workforce.

“The only thing that truly changes behavior is a fee,” Elsbernd said. “If we are truly going to change behavior and have our employees act and live in a healthier lifestyle, which in the end saves us money, we need to begin discussing charging fees for some behavior.”

Union leaders don’t like the sound of that.

“The whole idea just sounds horrible,” said Larry Bradshaw, vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the largest city employee union, which represents about 13,000 workers.

Bradshaw said cost savings could instead be achieved if health providers demanded less revenue, decreased administrative charges and accurately billed medical treatments.

He also countered Lee’s characterization of San Francisco’s financial picture and said The City needs to inject more revenue into the budget, such as by overhauling business taxes. Bradshaw noted city workers have already sacrificed by supporting pension reform in November, forgoing pay raises in past years and making recent increases in their health insurance copays.

“We worry that every time the mayor looks at the employees he sees an ATM,” Bradshaw said. “And we are not an ATM.”

The total cost of health care for city workers, retirees and their families is estimated this fiscal year at $679.4 million.

Lee’s spokeswoman Christine Falvey said last week that contract talks “must be wrapped up before May 15. Health costs will be addressed in negotiations.”

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

Rising costs


City worker health care is becoming more expensive as San Francisco faces a budget deficit next
fiscal year.


$679.4M Estimated cost of health care for city workers and retirees and their families this fiscal year

$1,046 Average monthly premium cost per member

$160 What employee pays

$886 What city pays

$961 Average monthly premium cost per member last fiscal year

$229M Estimated S.F. budget deficit for 2012-13 fiscal year

$364M Estimated budget deficit for 2013-14 fiscal year