Collective bargaining can be an important part of ensuring and improving healthcare benefits for workers in New York. This is one reason why a bill being considered by the state legislator exempted collectively bargained changes from a regulation that would prevent insurance companies from changing their prescription formularies during a plan year. These formularies lay out which medications are covered and the out-of-pocket costs that go along with them under a specific insurance plan. The bill aims to stop insurance companies from suddenly ending coverage for or changing the price of a specific medication in the middle of the year when members are already locked into their plans.
Patients, especially those with chronic or severe illnesses, have found themselves facing sudden upswings in cost when a medication is removed from the formulary. This is especially true for newer, in-patent medications that may be necessary to control pain or even support life. When these changes happen in the middle of the plan year, patients have no opportunity to seek out different coverage. This is one reason union representation can be so important in determining employee health benefits as issues like formulary changes can be dealt with as part of a collective process that protects workers' rights.
A number of patient advocacy groups have pushed for the change to the law, including the AARP, Arthritis Foundation, National Multiple Sclerosis Society and American Lung Association. Their members have faced escalated costs as a result of unexpected mid-year changes to insurance companies' prescription formularies.
Health insurance coverage is only one of the important issues that unions address on behalf of their members. Unions can work with labor and employment lawyers throughout the collective bargaining process as well as to handle grievance arbitration, deal with wage and hour violations or fight unfair labor practices.