Sunday, April 4, 2004

A strong benefit that may not last



UNION WORKER
Keith Glassmeyer
Keith Glassmeyer works for Kroger, which pays 100 percent of his health insurance. That deal expires in October, and he expects change.
(Meggan Booker photo)

KEITH GLASSMEYER
50, Okeana

Type of insurance coverage: Union-negotiated PPO

Health coverage premium: $0.

Family health bills: $30 a month for prescriptions, and up to $200 a year for doctor visits and small expenses before full coverage kicks in.

Keith Glassmeyer is a union member working as a clerk for a local Kroger store. He says health-care benefits are by far the biggest concern among workers.

"We've got a great plan now. But that's all going to change in October," Glassmeyer says.

He predicts health-care concerns to be the top issue when the contract for workers at 70 stores in Dayton and Cincinnati comes up for renewal in October.

In Southern California, 70,000 Kroger and other grocery workers were involved in a 41/2-month strike and lockout in a contract dispute over health care. They agreed last month to a contract that splits employees into two classes, with new hires getting less pay and fewer benefits.

"You can't really blame the Kroger Co. They have to compete," Glassmeyer says.

Plans like Glassmeyer's, which are entirely financed by employers, are relatively rare.

And currently, private employers aren't required to offer health benefits at all. The fact that many do is a tradition born decades ago when strong unions negotiated benefits into some labor contracts and other employers offered similar benefits in efforts to keep unions out.

Glassmeyer also supports charging people more for unhealthy lifestyles.

"Smokers or obese people should pay more," he says. "It would be just like high-risk insurance for car drivers."

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When Lisa James' husband took a new job, it turned into a coverage nightmare.
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Keith Glassmeyer says health-care benefits are the biggest concern among fellow workers.
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Betty Stevens joined an HMO in the '90s, and saved money at first. She's now less satisfied.
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