Friday, November 14, 2008

Freelancers Union members unite

This blog aims to give an open stage to our efforts to convince Freelancers Union to continue with the health plans we currently have (with BCBS).

There is a meeting planned for interested members at the information booth in Grand Central between 11:15 and 11:30 on Saturday morning (11/15/2008)

The more we can voice our opinion and our dismay with the planned changes, the better our chances to make a difference.

124 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. i live on long island and so cannot attend the meeting, but i would be most appreciative if an update on the meeting were posted here. i, too, have been keenly interested in carolyn's and laurie's comments.

    i will check back. thanks so much! - jennifer (i've also posted on the blog comments and in chatter)

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  3. I won't be able to make the Saturday meet-up.. but I wanted to say thank you for creating this blog. I will check back in to see if there is anything else I can do to help move this forward...

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  4. Thank you for putting this together.
    Well i am truly outraged by the FU (appropriate abbreviation) as are many other members it seems.
    So what can we do? Firstly let your money talk for you!
    I am looking for another Health Care provider and want to share the first thing i found.
    Healthy New York provides plans specifically for the Self Employed and it is comparable to the Direct POS plan i had for 2008 with FU.
    http://www.nyhealthinsurer.com/quote/result/
    I would be interested in any other suggestions people may have.
    Looking forward to FU members pulling together and find really solutions for these difficult times.

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  5. From what I read on the blog/chat on FU website, people are checking the followings:
    eHealthInsurance
    Media bistro
    Fractured Atlas
    LIA - http://www.liahealthalliance.com

    But I can say for myself that I can't really leave the group plan we have and go with an individual one, since I have a pre-existing condition (pregnancy...)
    I would much rather try to work with FU to negotiate with BCBS for 2009 rates. Although I sometime really wish everyone would just leave them because of their insensitive move, I think it would only hurt both sides. I really want to find a solution as a group, because this is why we joined Freelancers Union in the first place.

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  6. I absolutely agree with you.
    Unfortunately they have given us less than a month to decide and that leaves little time to leverage any change.
    Have they been open to dialogue in the past?
    Is it feasible that they would restructure their plans?
    Seeing as i am relatively new member, this being my first full year, i have no way of judging.
    Regardless it sets a terrible precedent and i would hate to be put in the same situation in subsequent years.

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  7. What will be on the agenda? How a bunch of people are going to buy their own insurance? Generalized Griping? PS Saturday is the 15th of November.

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  8. I think the agenda might look at a variety of collective responses to the changes in the FU plan, which might include trying to get media attention; pressuring the FU through their Board of Directors or funders; exploring whether there is ANY possibility that there could be an additional plan developed for the Empire POS folks who are most affected by the new FIC plans--perhaps there could be another enrollment in, say, April); and whether we have access to anyone who could help us with this issue such as Physicians for a National Health Plan, the office of Senator Baucus who just submitted a white paper on health care coverage to Congress, or local op ed folks who have previously lauded the FU.

    It might also be nice to develop our own FAQ since they are being so damn slow getting back to us, and it's so frustrating to see folks asking the same questions over and over again....

    There might be more, but as a freelance organizer, this is what comes to mind. After the gripe session, of course!

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  9. Regardless, this is a great forum to initiate some sort of change.
    Thanks for everyones input as it helps alleviate my angst!

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  10. I encourage us to pursue this and see what kind of pressure we can put on FU to reconsider their more expensive plans with significantly lower benefits. Also, we aren't under the time pressure of only having a month to leverage change. While we are required to choose a new plan as current members of FU during the open enrollment so as to be covered on January 1, please be assured that should you find a better alternative with another group (fractured atlas, etc.)or decide to purchase directly from an insurer as an individual, all these alternative sources for insurance will enroll you at any point during the year. "Open Enrollment" practices only affect individuals currently insured in any company's group. We don't have to make a mass exodus to make a point, we can be reasoned about choosing alternatives and switching to other coverage, and if enough people leave, FU will be compelled to reconsider the plans they developed.

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  11. Kudos to sad-M/upsetFU for setting up this blog!

    I know that only FU members can access the Member Chatter, but can outsiders post comments on Sarah's blog? (I've thought about asking a non-member friend to try, but I haven't had a chance, and I'm sure that some of you understand the inner workings of the FU site much better than I do.) If non-members don't have access, it might be a good idea for some of us to repost some of our blog comments here so that they'll be easily accessible to non-members whom we're trying to interest in our cause.

    I hope, though, that we can be selective in what we repost here and choose comments that are civil in tone and expressed with a reasonable degree of logic and clarity -- or that we'll rewrite comments that don't quite meet those standards. We're losing our safety net, so it's understandable that we're angry and scared and feel that we've been betrayed. But if we want people to take us seriously, we need to calm down a little -- and that goes for me as much as for anyone else. I don't mean to say that we shouldn't express our fear and anger, just that we need to give up some of the more intemperate language that has appeared in the blog comments and especially in the Member Chatter. (For my part, I've pretty much given up on the Member Chatter for our purposes because the comments and questions disappear so rapidly and it's hard to have a conversation of substance.)

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  12. FYI, I spoke with a Member Services rep today and for what it's worth, I asked her if it were possible for FU to amend their plan and she said that State Insurance Dept. only allows plan changes once a year. So it would be a year before any changes would even be made. I have no idea if this is accurate but it might be worth asking FU to confirm to us in a post that no changes can be made until a year from now. That might change the direction of this discussion. I find the whole thing cynical--especially using that inane survey to justify this to us. And it's obvious why FU won't give us an option--we would all choose a plan like last year's Direct POS even with a steep increase.

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  13. Those of us who are already enrolled in Empire BC/BS Direct POS could band together and request Empire to offer us a group rate.We must number in the several hundreds.Is this a possibility?

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  14. To upsetFU:

    I feel for you. I am the mother of a young child and would be enraged if this happened when I was due to deliver. Do bear in mind that with the current plan your hospitalization would be $1500 - $750 for you and $750 for the baby - since the person giving birth counts as one hospital admission and the person being born as another. Still and all, with the new plan you will pay far more out of pocket than with the current one.

    That said, I'd like to believe that working with FU to negotiate for BCBS 2009 rates will work, but let's be realistic. In my experience, people like Sara Horowitz don't admit they're wrong. She fashions herself an anthropologist of sorts, far superior to members of the FU who participate in her grand experiment. It is her grandiose notion that members of this organization, "her constituency," will follow like blind sheep while putting aside their own self-interest to
    "do it for the cause." This mindset tells me she is obviously a spoiled, Ivy-league educated brat (I can say this because I am Ivy league educated and went to school with people like her). She thinks she's smarter than everyone else and immune to any consequences. I can only hope that ultimately she will fall victim to her own hubris.

    Other than that, I find it hard to believe she created a new insurance company from scratch. Seems to me she cut a deal with Bluecard PPO to slap her name on s cheap plan and jack up the premium prices for her own profit. That's my theory...

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  15. Sole Proprietor plans are also available here:

    http://www.uaebenefits.com/insplans.htm

    Note that their rates change mid year so you will only know what you're going to pay for the first half of the year.

    Just another option for those looking for alternatives.

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  16. Well said, nbl! About 24 hours ago, I calmed down a bit and reached the same conclusion about the possibility of enrolling in PPO 1 but then joining another plan sometime after January 1. And viewing the situation from that perspective has helped enormously, even though I'd have to try to dismiss from my mind the prospect that I could incur catastrophic expenses in January 2009. (I'm a bit superstitious about that because of my experience in 2004. After five years of very light usage of my previous medical plan, I enrolled in the FU plan and was covered as of June 1. On the Fourth of July weekend, before I'd even thought of making an appointment with my new PCP, I had a bad fall and sustained the worst injuries of my life [not really all that bad by emergency room standards, but still, nothing like that had ever happened to me before, and I was 57 at the time]. My PCP was on a long Fourth of July weekend, so I couldn't see her until several days later, and I couldn't see an orthopedic surgeon until after I'd seen her and obtained a referral. Because I hadn't yet had my first appointment with her, no one else in the group practice would see me and give me a referral. That meant that I couldn't see an orthopedist in the time frame recommended by the emergency room doctors, and that was definitely not a good thing.)

    I also agree that we may need to think about continuing our efforts to put pressure on FU after January 1. I know that I'm limited in how much time I can devote to these efforts, and I suspect that most of us are in the same boat. We need to get started and work as quickly and efficiently as possible, but we may be putting too much pressure on ourselves if we think that we have to do everything immediately.

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  17. To the Anonymous Mother who commented above: I loved your comments, especially the characterization of Sara Horowitz as an "anthropologist of sorts," and I agree that we need to take a cold, hard look at the situation and be realistic about what we can accomplish.

    I disagree, though, that Sara is doing this for her own profit -- that is, if you mean financial profit. I think that she is a true idealist of a sort, albeit a somewhat deluded one in certain respects; and I don't think that she's starting the company for personal monetary gain -- I think this is all about ego, power and control. On the other hand, it's at least partly about generating extra funds for lobbying, which seems to be her favorite activity. I'm all in favor of FU's lobbying efforts, but not at the expense of the members who participate in the insurance plans. And so I'm suspicious about the fact that any profits from the new company are earmarked for programming and advocacy and not for investments to be used to offset future plan costs. (By the way, Working Today's 2007 tax return reports lobbying expenditures of $49,894 -- not an excessive amount, I admit.) In the comments on one of Sara's blog posts, I've asked about this issue about the profits; but she hasn't responded, of course, and I doubt that she ever will.

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  18. I just reread my first comment here, made earlier this evening, and I'd like to make a correction/clarification. What I'm interested in knowing is not whether non-members can post comments on Sara's blog, but whether non-members have access to the blog and can read the comments there.

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  19. Yes, anyone can access Sara's blog. You don't need to sign in first to access it, just go to www.freelancersunion.org home page and click on blog header to read her posts.
    I'm still curious if anyone knows if the State Insurance Dept.'s regulations really prohibit changes in plans more than once per year. In which case we are stuck with this if we choose to stay with FU.
    Do you think it's completely off-the-wall to find out how many of us would sign up with BC/BS for Direct POS plan and if it's substantial enough, to take that number to the company and see what we could work out ourselves? Maybe in the spirit of the times BC/BS would go for it, plus it could generate good publicity for them and would make a great news story exposing FU. Unless of course BC/BS would be competing against itself given FU's ties to its network.

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  20. hey, Carolyn, are you me? I was qualified to start insurance on May 1, but since the first day that my PCP could see me was June 8, I decided to start insurance on June 1 and save some $$$.

    And of course, I had a major asthma attack (never having been diagnosed with asthma before) which turned out to be sever respitory arrest that led me to a collapse on the Union Square subway platform---during the third week of May. May! I had knowingly put off starting my plan until June 1...

    I spent several thousands of $$$ in a week on medications, x-rays, urgent care, etc. even as the very good NYU urgent care folks tried to contain costs and prediagnosed me with pneumonia and did phone check-ins and outpatient treatments when my PCP's office refused to see me nor refer me since my insurance would not kick in for two weeks (they would not even agree for me to self-pay upfront so that I would have continuation of care) and because I has not yet seen my PCP would not even let me know what radiologist, pulmonary specialists, what have you that they usually use so that I could at least not have to pay fees for out-of-plan requests for follow-ups when Dr. B did see me.

    In terms of what we can do,now, my thoughts are to get media exposure, and to seek support/leverage from the funders of this venture, both private and public. This is a model project for which I imagine the supporting foundations have had high hopes, and philanthropy hates nothing more than bad publicity for their good works.

    There are a few journalists---Maggie Mahar comes to mind, Ezra Klein is another---who are smart about heath care and could do a lot of the work around sketching out the issues here. We have on our side the fact that Senator Baucus just submitted a white paper on health care reform to Congress, so it's a hot topic right now.

    Getting media attention may not mean that we can get the plans changed--as noted above, there are some regulatory issues, but we might be able to use media and philanthropic pressure to get some movement on better benefits counseling (rather than networking gathering); improved communication strategies; perhaps a strategy for membership input on the 2010 plans (even if I'm no longer on FIC, it would help the next generation of FU folks be more protected, and who knows, maybe I'll be back next year), including member representation on both the FU and FCI boards; and finding out what the benchmarks for success that the funders are holding FU to and whether those benchmarks suggest that those of us that need more/ would utilize comprehensive care plans were planned boots.

    I'm betting much of this can be taken up by pundits if we can craft some good press releases---health care reform is on the table NOW.

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  21. On the earmarks for programming and advocacy rather than re- investments in the backend, I am assuming that this is a requirement of the foundation support---as a model social entrepreneurship project, it would make sense that foundations would expect the FU/FIC to be self-sustaining and wean itself off of philanthropic support. After 10/12 years of grants, and in the current funding context, I think that's a fair guess.

    Also, FU has only recently been given the 501(c)4 status (Working Today remains a 501(c)3) which allows them to lobby. In general, federal law prohibits foundations from making grants to organization that lobby the government.

    Lastly, I keep in mind that while FU members seem to mostly join for the insurance and safety net benefits, FU lobbies of behalf of freelance workers on issues such as taxes..and taxes. It don;t see much lobbying on actual health care reform, and I think that's a crucial difference.

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  23. Okay, so this is the current advocacy platform:

    ___________________________
    Affordable Health Insurance
    As an individual, health insurance rates are prohibitively high. As a community, we can negotiate group rates and make health coverage affordable.

    Fair Taxation
    Due to an outdated tax code, Freelancers pay more taxes than traditional employees. As 30% of the U.S. workforce, we can call for a fair review.

    Unemployment Insurance
    Freelancers have no social safety net without unemployment insurance. We need a method of income stabilization for when we are vulnerable to periods of unemployment or under-employment.

    Unpaid Wage Compensation
    The Department of Labor offers an unpaid wage claim system to employees while freelancers must sue or walk away. Non-payment should be seen as an equal problem for everyone.

    Saving for Retirement
    Freelancers face unique challenges in planning for retirement. We're designing a flexible retirement plan tailored to freelancers and providing education on how to take control of your options.
    _____________________

    All good issues, but my sense is still that for health, it is access to health insurance, not actually access to health CARE; granted, they are working within our current deeply flawed system, but there are changes afoot and visions for a new future and they/we could/should be part of these conversations.

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  24. Anonymous: Thanks so much for the answer to my question about access to Sara's blog. As for your suggestion about figuring out how many of us would sign up with Empire and then possibly approaching Empire directly, I'm afraid that it does seem off-the-wall to me. Empire won't be interested in us unless we're an organized association, and we wouldn't have the resources to form an association and then carry through with everything we'd have to do to negotiate with Empire unless a few of us were willing to work full-time on this. As I've said above, my time is severely limited, and I suspect that's the case for most of us. But an even bigger problem, I think, is the fact that we don't have access to a membership list or directory, much less a list of Direct POS participants, and the thought of figuring out how to reach all, or even most, of the members enrolled in Direct POS is more than daunting to me. But maybe someone else can see something that I can't see?

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  25. moonmarked: Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge of the foundation and non-profit world. I knew some of what you wrote, but not most of it. If I've understood you correctly, Working Today can lobby, but FU, with its recently-acquired 501(c)(4) status, can't. Therefore, foundations can make grants to FU, but not to Working Today. I'd interpreted the "advocacy" that will be funded by any FIC profits to include lobbying, among other activities, but it can't include lobbying and can only mean other sorts of advocacy efforts. But insurance companies can lobby. Query: Do you think there's any chance that the foundations, following the spirit of the law, have required FIC to have by-laws that prohibit it from lobbying, even though the letter of the law doesn't require it? If moonmarked doesn't know the answer to this, do we have any non-profit lawyers or foundation gurus out there?

    By the way, I've just noticed that the time on this blog seems to be PST, not EST -- is that Google time? For once I'm not up at 5 a.m. I hope to see many of you at GCT in a few hours.

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  26. No, it's the opposite: I think WT can not lobby, and that FU was formed as a 501(c)4 so that they COULD lobby. Foundations can make grants to 501(c)4s, but not for lobbying purposes.

    I suspect that in the past grants were made to WT, and that with the incorporation of FIC, FIC funds will be used to fund the lobbying efforts of FU.

    Insurance companies can lobby because they are generally not tax-exempt organizations, but in general, corporations usually fund lobbyists as a separate bodies, often having industry-wide roles.

    In general, foundations can not and do not advise organizations on their tax structures, including their by-laws. However, many nonprofits have folks from philanthropy on their board who help to advice, and most also have lawyers who advise on structure.

    Foundations are limited by law as to who they may fund, and while they can not fund certain types of advocacy, in this instance, there is no reason why a foundation would not want to support FU to lobby on behalf of freelancers. Personally, I think it is fine that they are working on several of these issues, as it allows for tax relief, access to income stability, and retirement options for freelancers, and which we as individual freelancers are not able to pressure our legislature in meaningful ways that might lead to legislative change. So that's a good thing.

    However, my mistake was in assuming that FU was also lobbying on health care reform, particularly given it's long relationship with RWJ Foundation. But a closer look suggests that their lobbying is on ACCESS to care, through negotiating for insurance at a discount, which is completely different and assumes that the structure of the health insurance industry is inherently fair, and that the only issue has been allowing freelancers to have access as a cohort, and hence, the FU organizes us as a discreet group, with criteria that limits membership the same way that an employer restricts membership under their offered plans to employees who work certain hours or have certain types of jobs. It was a misjudgment on my part, and I am curious as to whether the philanthropic supporters are clear on this point as well. I have no doubt that the industry and state supporters are clear about this, because it is in keeping with most current strategies for managing health care--everyone is willing to throw the high utilizers under the bus because we cost too much; it won't be until the risk pool is shared through universal mandates for coverage that the risk will be adequately spread. And of course, when health care delivery, itself, is regulated and reformed.

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  27. Here's an interesting article about an insurance deal cut in Florida. Looks awfully familiar. My guess is that Sara cut the same type of deal and jacked up the premiums to make more of a profit:
    http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/stories/2006/12/25/daily22.html?from_rss=1

    Overall, what she did was sign a contract with an insurance franchise. You'll be getting McDonalds health insurance at Le Cirque prices.

    And caveat emptor: when asked about preathorizing services on the new plan, a member service representative stated "you won't have to." I do not believe this one bit and urge others not to as well.

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  28. were downstairs grand central lower level across from track 113. join us!

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  29. Not sure how to use this blog -- my url? I have to post as anonymous, unfortunately. I am chris at chris_os@verizon.net
    Deeply regret missing the meeting; discouraged by the heavy rain and long trip down and east, and the thought that, if I were late, the group would have relocated. My reasons for attending were more selfish than contributing to such solutions (which seem untenable) as getting FU to go back to the old insurance, or changing the plan (this year, anyway).
    I did not see plans that were better for me than FU's. I will check out the new suggestions, but MediaBiastro's options looked even more expensive -- in my situaton. I am just starting the process of applying because I need insurance Jan. 1. Pre-existing conditions will be covered because I have had insurance for 12 months. My cousin, also applying, is in worse shape. She has been without insurance for years and was just about to apply. (I am getting her the info because she is in Eastern Europe on a speaking tour for the State Dep't.) The problem for both of us is that a good proportion of our income is from governments and does not count toward the eligibility requirements, so it took a while to scrape together the additional income from nonprofits. Sara was reassuring in her latest answer to questions in saying that pre-existing conditions are covered -- reassuring but inapplicable, because they are covered only if one had been enrolled in the old plan. Under the old plan, however, even if one had not had health insurance and was just enrolling, pre-existing conditions were covered (as it is not under any MediaBistro plans). My cousin is...trying to think of a polite word or phrase -- up a creek.
    Sorry to belabor our personal situation; wish I had more to contribute to the discussion of 501c3's, lobbying and health care reform. The previous comment covers it all, except for inside knowledge of FU/WT plans and activities. Interesting and valid distinction between access and reform. Max Baucus, among others, has a plan that deals somewhat with access and reform. Obama says it is his third priority. Hope it comes through this year -- then watch, we won't be eligible for the open access plans because we were able to get insurance through FU. (Note that, even now, there is short-term medicaid without the poverty requirements for certain "medically necessary" conditions.)

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  30. To those at Grand Central. Our apology for not being able to be physically present although watching assiduously any reports to be proferred on this blog.

    Excelsior.

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  31. Everyone: I have colonized a forum on Craigslist that might make following the conversations a little easier. Will you join me there?

    http://newyork.craigslist.org/forums/?forumID=3838

    Looking forward to reading updates here, and possible engaging in more discussion over on CL.

    -jennifer

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  32. Jennifer, the URL will not link; please check.

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  33. In the "not just us" department:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/15/business/15insure.html

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  34. the craigslist link above does work, but it seems that blogspot isn't allowing active links. just cut and paste the url into your browser and you'll get there.
    -jennifer

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  35. Moonmarked: Thanks for more enlightenment, and especially for correcting my posting from this morning -- I was trying to think and write too quickly on too little sleep while getting ready to leave for our meet-up in GCT. Only a small group braved the rain, but we had a good discussion. Sooner rather than later, we'll have a summary of our concerns and needs ready for review by concerned FU members. If you'd like to be in the loop to review and comment, please send your e-mail address to upsetFU@gmail.com. Thanks so much!

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  36. Jennifer, I'll try to visit when the URL works, but I can't promise that I'll visit often. I'm planning to make most of my comments on this blog -- I'm finding it a bit too much to keep trying to be an active participant on all of these sites. Sorry -- I've really appreciated your comments.

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  37. Tried Craigslist. I don't get how it works -- there were old posts about thanksgiving and other irrelevancies; just one FU member posting about insurance. There is no special spot for UpsetFU on Craigslist, just generic NY? This blogspot was better imho. What is the advantage of Craigslist and how does it work?

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  38. I don't think the Craigslist initiative succeeded, and I agree with Carolyn that we should focus our efforts and not spread over too many sites. I know this blog is not perfect, but I find Craigslist forum way more confusing.
    I am open to any other suggestions. In the meantime if you do want to post with your first name and not anonymously, so we can refer to each others comments, select the name/url option in the menu and leave the url field empty.

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  39. READ IN HASTE AND REPENT IN LEISURE? As someone with several years of experience as a paralegal and many years of experience as a writer and communications consultant working closely with attorneys on various kinds of technical information (including benefits plan information), I know as well as anyone how important it is to read certain kinds of communications very, very carefully -- at least in theory I do.

    Nevertheless, when I received the 8/28/08 e-mail from Freelancers Union with the link to our Empire benefits booklet, I was so happy to finally receive it eight months after the new coverage took effect that I didn't even mind that my printer was tied up for more than an hour while I printed out all the materials -- and I didn't even notice some curious language in the e-mail that normally would have raised a red flag for me.

    Monica wrote, "This benefits booklet will remain online as long as it's valid, through the end of this year." In hindsight, why didn't she write, "This benefits booklet will remain online as long as it's valid." -- or "This benefits booklet will remain online until it's replaced by a revised booklet."? Given how long it took to send us this booklet, most of us certainly wouldn't have expected a new and revised Empire booklet to be online on or before 1/1/08. If I'd been more alert, I would have seen that this was an early indication that "something was rotten in the state of FU" -- that is, I would have suspected that there was going to be a major change in our benefits as of 1/1/08.

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  40. Correction: In the comment above, the dates should be 1/1/09, not 1/1/08.

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  41. I gave one of our group the link to the Empire benefits booklets that was in the 8/28/08 e-mail and heard back that the link no longer works. Here's a link to the POS booklet that should work as long as you're signed in on the FU site:
    http://www.freelancersunion.org/insurance/pdfs/Benefits-Booklet-POS.pdf

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  42. Sorry -- the link I just gave in the comment above isn't a direct link. Just sign in on the FU site, go to the Membership Home Page, and use the link to Benefits Booklets at the bottom of the page.

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  43. Isn't the open enrollment period always at the end of the year for FU? And didn't we all expect the rates and perhaps the coverage to cahnge?

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  44. moonmarked -

    Can you really think of it as a reasonable change? I would be ok with 20% more in my monthly rate plan, but changing the plans completely and joining a new health insurance company, led by a company that totally mismanaged their last year transfer from HIP to Empire (http://gawker.com/339510/freelancers-union-health-benefits-snafu-has-members-fuming) makes me more than upset and worried.

    And, for someone who only joined 2 weeks ago, I definitely didn't expect that drastic change. And I was double checking with their costumer service numerous times to make sure I'm covered for all sorts of things. No one ever mentioned that the plans are going to change drastically in just 2 month which I find very disturbing.

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  46. no, no, I don't think it was a reasonable change, I'm just responding to carolyn's comment that saying the member booklet being schedule to change was a clue to what was happening. I don't think there was anyway to expect that this would happen. It's horrible. In fact, the fact that we kinda knew that rates would go up makes it especially surprising that the benefits changed so drastically.

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  47. Read it and weep:

    http://www.fepblue.org/benefitplans/compare/index.html

    Also: the government pays 3/4 of monthly premium. These are just the BC/BS options--many more are available to federal employees. "Temporary" employees get these same benefits w/o subsidized premium.

    If FU was trying to be so forward thinking and cutting edge, why didn't they use the Obama/Clinton model of the federal employees program and work with BC/BS to come up with a private sector version of these plans?

    Given what BC/BS was willing to offer us with the Direct POS option last year, maybe the company might have been willing to go this route in negotiations. We'll never know.

    What I find most disingenuous in Sara's posts are her suspicions that BC/BS would have made draconian and onerous changes...and yet FU never even bothered to negotiate!

    Notice how every other group like mediabistro that's been written about in posts offers several plans.

    I'm sure FU knew if they had negotiated in good faith with BC/BS, FU's own horrendous plans would have no takers.

    I am deeply offended every time I think of Sara's condescending line about how she will continue to "strategize" for us.

    So from someone who was not a heavy user of the plan but was enormously grateful for FU's efforts to provide its members a safety net:

    Save it, Sara.

    ReplyDelete
  48. I am interested in any updates. I have the POS plan and would very much like to form a group to approach Empire BCBS on our own (if that is at all possible).

    Thanks!
    Sue

    ReplyDelete
  49. This is Carolyn -- I forgot to sign in.

    moonmarked: Sorry -- you didn't understand what I was trying to say. Probably I made a mistake in posting my "Read in Haste" comment here since it was really me talking to myself and perhaps to a few others who have been involved in benefits on the inside, whether as health care providers, HR benefits professionals, or consultants. I never, never said -- nor did I imply -- that the changes are "reasonable." And I didn't mean to suggest that Monica's language in that e-mail should have raised a red flag for all plan participants -- just that it should have raised a red flag for me since I know very well how the content of certain types of communications may have to be hedged when changes are being considered or are already in the works but can't yet be announced for various reasons. And I certainly did not mean to suggest that the language in the e-mail was adequate warning to the membership of upcoming changes that would make a radical difference in our coverage.

    All I was trying to say is that normally a benefits booklet would remain online until it is replaced by a revised booklet. If it's not possible to put a revised booklet online by the date changes are effective (in this case, 1/1/09), the standard practice is to keep the booklet for the previous year online, together with a new summary of benefits that includes all changes -- probably the same summary distributed with enrollment materials and instructions. The statement that the current booklet would disappear from the site by 12/31/08 would have been a red flag for me -- would have told me that "something was rotten in the state of FU" -- if I'd read and analyzed the e-mail more carefully, especially in light of the fact that it took FU until the end of August 2008 to post our 2008 booklet.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Welcome, Sue! Several of us are committed to posting all significant updates here. You may want to read all of the comments above, and perhaps also all of the comments on Sara Horowitz's blog on the FU site.

    As for your suggestion about approaching Empire BC/BS, please see my comment posted on November 15, 2008, at 8:05 a.m.

    ReplyDelete
  51. A word of advice: Since FU has put us on notice that the current benefit booklets will disappear from the FU Web site at the end of 2008, I strongly recommend that everyone in the plans download and print out the entire booklet for their plan, if you haven't already done so. Then, if you have questions about the details of your 2008 coverage after January 1, 2009, and especially if you need to appeal the denial of one or more claims for services provided in 2008, you'll have a copy of your booklet available for reference.

    ReplyDelete
  52. To the person who wrote, "Read it and weep:"
    Face it, Sara bought into a Bluecard contract that will enable her to make millions over a relatively short period of time.The more people she gets to enroll in this plan the more $ she'll make (that's why she baited people into the organization over the past year using the Empire BCBS plan).
    See:http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/stories/2006/12/25/daily22.html?from_rss=1

    This is not about purging frequent users, it's about preying upon users who feel powerless to find other sources of health insurance so she can make as much money as she can for her organization. She will never bargain or strategize for anything better. Believe me, she's gotten advice from some of the best and brightest moneymaking minds in the country, people who refer to themselves as "Social Capitalists." My advice is to find insurance somewhere else. Even if another organization offers a plan just as bad as this for the same amount of money, take it. It'll be worth it for everyone to bail just to see her fall flat on her face.

    ReplyDelete
  53. I'd be very interested in hearing more from members who are familiar with the options offered through Mediabistro or others.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Thanks, Carolyn. I did read your comments above and I see your point about approaching BCBS ourselves. My husband's friend (who works for an insurance company) heard about our plight and had suggested approaching BCBS as a "group" - but didn't mention we had to be an actual organization. I am in an unfortunate situation (as I know MANY of us are) where I need to have good insurance, not just insurance. The only other one I qualify for is Atlantis and it seems to have a bad rep and I'm not sure it covers what I need covered (sorry to be so cryptic here.. I'd rather not go into details..). If anyone knows of Atlantis personally I'd love to hear about it. Otherwise if there is nothing else out there (believe me I've been looking!) then I may have to suck it up and join with FU again.. but I'm looking for every possible out there could be! Thanks again for this blog.... -Sue

    ReplyDelete
  55. A FU member services rep told me that nys insurance dept. regulations do not permit any changes to these plans for a year. If that is true, we are stuck with it.

    We should find out directly from Sara Horowitz if that is true. And we should find out from her directly if she was prohibited by law, regulation or just self-interest from negotiating with BC/BS for a 2009 version of our direct POS plan. And if it is the latter, is it possible for her to negotiate NOW knowing that it might take several months and knowing that her own plans might take a hit (they are her plans, not ours).

    Again, if she is not prohibited by law or regulation from offering options beyond her own packages, then she has a responsibility to try to make this work for us. Sara miscalculated and misfired. She made some errors in judgment and she needs to step up.

    If she can do this but won't, then the woman best known for her social conscience has no conscience at all.

    In one of her posts she talks about a conference call "in a few weeks." Why not next week? She should post an agenda to which we can add. She can always plan a follow-up call if necessary.

    From one of Sara's posts:

    "Many of you have asked for comparisons between FIC 2009 plans and what BCBS would have offered. As much as we’d like to provide these, we can’t. Neither Empire nor PerfectHealth would have been able to provide us with costs for our current plans for 2009 without negotiations and analysis of plan utilization through at least Q3 of 2008."

    ReplyDelete
  56. Anonymous -- I'm really not sure that we'd have to be an incorporated association (you might want to ask your husband's friend who works at an insurance company), but I think that at the very least we'd have to be a well-organized group.

    ReplyDelete
  57. I am sorry I missed the meeting. I only saw the outrageous price hikes today. I am thankful you started this blog and hearing the thoughts of others who don't want to stand for this.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Hi Carolyn,
    I'm having my husband e-mail his friend that question... hopefully he'll know. I do think we could at least be a "well-organized group". We are all independent workers to some degree and I think we're probably pretty skilled at organizing ourselves : ).
    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  59. A note to the Fed Up, my Upset Freelancers Union Friends: I'm reposting here a long comment I just posted on Sara's blog. If we want to preserve comments we've made there, we may want to copy them here. I'll explain more in an upcoming comment on freedom of speech.

    Alfred, I think you’re taking “purge” too literally. What’s more, I’m not sure that any of the “conspiracy theorists” ever used the word “purge” — I think that was David’s interpretation of comments posted by various people here on Sara’s blog, in the member chat and on the blog upsetfu.blogspot.com.

    Obviously, we’ve had both heavy and light users of the Direct POS Plan, and that’s just normal for any plan. (Personal example: After 5 years of very light usage of the National Writers Union plan, I’ve been a fairly heavy user of the FU plan for the past 4 1/2 years — but most of my usage was in 2004, 2007 and 2008. My usage was fairly light in 2005 and very light in 2006, and HIP recovered roughly half of what it paid out in 2007 in the course of a personal injury lawsuit that I filed and later settled. HIP actually could have recovered more, but because of the costs of paying its subrogation firm, a decision was made not to keep HIP’s claim open while I completed extensive physical therapy. I haven’t actually added up total benefits paid by HIP and Empire and total premiums and copayments paid by me in the 2004-08 period, but I think the two totals are roughly equal — which isn’t bad since I’m 61, but of course HIP, Empire and FU have had significant administrative costs.)

    Sara has said that utilization has been particularly high for the Direct POS Plan, and I have no reason to doubt that, even though we haven’t been given any numbers. The issue is that the PPO 1 Plan, which no longer provides a real safety net for plan participants, has been designed to protect the new insurance company, FIC, from heavy usage and to keep premiums as low as possible for the long term. I think FU expects many higher-risk people (and others who think a safety net is essential) to leave the plan and go to Media Bistro, Oxford Sole Proprietor and other plans that are out there; but they also expect many of these people to stay because they don’t have other options, or because they just can’t cope with making a change — perhaps because they have an aversion to reading through benefits materials (especially materials that are as “unfriendly” as those provided by FU), or perhaps because they’re just too busy and will re-enroll without carefully reading the enrollment materials (much less obtaining information from other plans and comparing it to the FU information). In fact, I’d guess that many people have already re-enrolled.

    What’s more, FU/FIC probably doesn’t care all that much how many of the heavy users and high-risk people leave the plan because, if we stay in the plan, they’ve protected themselves through the plan design. Under the PPO 1 Plan, the members won’t be well protected against catastrophic expenses, or even against more ordinary heavy expenses such as surgery and extensive screenings. If all of us heavy users and high-risk people stayed, that might be a problem, but FU/FIC knows that we’re the group that pays the most careful attention to the enrollment materials, and that many of us with other options will leave.

    If there’s a mass exodus by Direct POS participants, even by those who have been light users but want to keep a real safety net (a prudent desire since even an exceptionally healthy 25-year-old can have a serious accident or decide to have a child) – and if Direct POS enrollment represents a large share of the current total plan participants – a mass exodus could be a real problem for FU. However, without knowing more about enrollment statistics, plan utilization and the demographics of plan participants, it’s hard to tell. We don’t have the all that information, but FU and its actuaries do. And when all is said and done, how likely is a mass exodus?

    It’s interesting to look back at how the Direct POS Plan has changed over the past 5 years. During my first open enrollment period, the premium actually went down, and the next year the increase was modest in comparison with other plans. What’s more, subsequent increases have been in line with national and regional trends, especially considering how low the premiums were to begin with. I always assumed that premiums were low because a large proportion of enrollees were young and healthy, and perhaps more people who are older or have significant health problems have joined the plan in the last year or two.

    Right from the beginning, I noticed that costs were being controlled by increasing copayments for prescription drugs and then by adding a prescription drug deductible. Initially, I wasn’t taking any prescription drugs on a continuing basis, so I wasn’t directly affected; but I know many people in my age range who take several prescription drugs, so I immediately recognized that my exposure to out-of-pocket costs was growing. Last year I began taking one brand-name prescription drug on a continuing basis, and I wasn’t happy this year to see my cost for a three-month supply obtained by mail order rise from $45 under HIP/Medco to $70 under Empire/Caremark (after I met the deductible). However, this increase hasn’t hurt all that much since I’m fortunate to have just one prescription.

    This year, when we switched to Empire, was the first year that out-of-pocket costs other than for prescription drugs increased significantly — most copayments were increased, including the hospitalization copayment, which rose from $500 to $750.

    ReplyDelete
  60. CENSORSHIP? -- Yesterday afternoon, in the Member Chatter on the FU site, Alfred posted Sara's salary from the organization's tax return, which is public information. Later, someone censored that information, as indicated by "[deleted]." Alfred then reposted the salary as a round number, and that number was still there as of 7 this morning. On Sara's blog, a comment a few days ago referred to her "six-figure salary" but wasn't more specific, and I think that comment is still there.

    If a "mole" posted confidential salary information or any other confidential information, deleting that information online would certainly be in order. But what is the justification for deleting publicly available information? Also, why the sensitivity about Sara's salary, which isn't higher than what one would expect for a nonprofit CEO with her experience and responsibilities?

    This is the first time that I've ever been aware of censorship on the FU site, either in the Member Chatter or in comments on Sara's blog, and I've seen clear misinformation as well as intemperate language there (language that would have been censored on many other sites). In light of the negative nature of so many comments, especially since the enrollment materials were released on 11/11, I've actually been impressed by the fact that there hasn't been any censorship, and I've felt that the lack of censorship was definitely to Sara's credit. But now I'm wondering whether FU might start to censor comments on a regular basis, and that's why I've suggested that people might want to repost some of their comments here, where FU has no control.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Sorry I couldn't make it on Saturday, guys! Can someone fill me in on what everyone talked about and if anything was decided? Also, how many people showed up?

    ReplyDelete
  62. I want to do my best to address your concerns. We'll continue to post information to the blog and respond to questions online, and we'll organize webinars over the next few days, but I'd also like to communicate on a more personal level. I'd like to invite the members who are posting to this blog to designate a small group of people with whom I can schedule a face to face meeting at the Freelancers Union office. If someone from the member side would like to take responsibility for scheduling, please contact me at sara@freelancersunion.org to let me know who will be attending and to set a date. We have a long history of common interests, and continuing to work on our members' behalf is our sole motivation.

    We are scheduling three webinars that are open to all members, so everyone can have an opportunity to have their questions addressed. The times will be:

    2 p.m., Thursday, November 20
    4 p.m., Monday, November 24
    2 p.m., Tuesday, November 25

    Check the FIC website for details later today.

    ReplyDelete
  63. Sara,

    I suggest you open the proposed meeting to all; if you want freelancers union to survive this I'd take drastic outreach and explain everything completely. Why you undertook this at all for starters... There's a lot of explaining I think you need to do, as well as apologizing to those you permitted to sign up for FU's insurance in the past few months (in some cases giving up what they had...). Don't know what you're thinking, but these are deeply personal issues for people and you've sort of run roughshod over them. If Freelancers Union is to survive you have a lot of work to do I think. Maybe you're just not seeing that? I really hope you can rectify things and save Freelancers Union and what was a good vision.

    ReplyDelete
  64. (In other words I think the webinars is a pretty slender offering; I would suggest 2 pm open house at your office this Saturday in Brooklyn, for starters.)

    ReplyDelete
  65. Outpatient surgery

    Facility deductible, then
    15% coinsurance

    This is SO BYZANTINE and confusing!!!! Looks like there might not be an annual maximum out of pocket cap on the cost of outpatient surgery... who can tell... Ms. Horowitz please try to make sense of your info sheets... they're not modeled on any of the many I've seen before... they need full explication... (I posted this on her blog too)

    ReplyDelete
  66. This proposed plan is really lousy and an outrage - higher monthly premiums, higher co-pays, higher fees for emergency room and hospital use, higher prescription deductibles and costs, charges for x-rays which were fully covered before, and the new coinsurance. How can we figure out how much the new coinsurance is going to cost?

    I can understand a reasonable annual increase in premiums, etc. but this new plan bears no resemblance to previous FU health plans. And all without actually checking with BC/BS as to what their terms going forward would be! What sheer gall and arrogance to think that members should just roll over and accept this with 45 days notice and the assurance that this is best for ‘the long term’! Best for who? And in economic times like these. In another time this would be cause for a revolution!

    ReplyDelete
  67. Hello.

    I have posted the below in at least a half dozen places because there seems to be no "blog central." Hopefully, UPSET FU will become that in short order.

    As an update to the below, you might to take a quick look at an article in this week's Wall Street Journal about companies controlling health care costs by setting up their own on-site clinics.

    If Sara really wants to make a (positive) name for herself and be innovative, why not rise above the fray and create the first clinic for self-employeds? Creating just another mumbo jumbo health plan is not revolutionary.

    see: http://sec.online.wsj.com/article/SB122696833222435529.html
    ____________________________________________

    WEBSITE NAVIGATION
    First, I want to express my total frustration at the difficulty of navigating the Freelancers Union website. Stuff is all over the place. There seems to be at least 10 different places to post comments on the new FIC. I hope this disorganization is not a true reflection of how FU and FIC operate.

    FIC ANNOUNCEMENT
    Second, I want to say that the announcement of the new FIC came as a complete shock. Only last year, members were switched from HIP to BC/BS. Another 12 months later, members are being switched again. Switching to BC/BS was relatively smooth because BC/BS is a known entity. Switching again so soon, and to a brand new FU-owned provider, requires advance notice in my opinion. If this is a new and improved product, then why not more fanfare earlier on?

    (LACK OF)TRANSPARENCY OF ANNOUNCEMENT
    Third, the announcement raised more questions than it answered. There appear to be no tangible improvements. Just a lot of smoke and mirrors. For example:

    “…with plans tailored to fit your own health care needs more closely than traditional plans typically allow.” Where is the tailoring? Where are the options? Where are the examples?

    “We also believe that we will be better able than commercial insurers to control the cost to you…” FU just THINKS it might be able to better control costs? Why no comparison to the 2009 Empire BC/BS actual/estimated rates? Why no long-term projection of savings with FIC vs. commercial plans? Why no charts and graphs and tables illustrating actual or at least estimated cost and coverage differences?

    The FIC 2009 comparable plan to what I had in 2008 with BC/BS is a whopping +21% higher!!!!! And copays have INcreased and coverage DEcreased. I don’t “get” why I will be better off with FIC. I feel like we are just supposed to BELIEVE! “Just trust us. We have your interests at heart.” We are not sheep!

    There are just way too many generalities in the communications about the new plan. It seems like voodoo to me.

    ReplyDelete
  68. regarding carolyn's reference to censorship and moles in her above nov 17, 2008 7:41 AM post, perhaps this explains why sara is looking for a new admin. seriously. i saw the job post somewhere very recently. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  69. If anyone wants to learn more about the health insurance options available to freelancers you can check out www.mediabistro.com/insurance or email health@mediabistro.com or call Nathan Short at 212 879 0122 - he has been very helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  70. Hi everyone - this is Nathan, one of the suddenly overworked people at Total Capital Planning (the people working with Mediabistro to provide info on the plans available) that several of you have either spoken or e-mailed with over the last few days, and we were just given this site earlier today.

    Just thought I'd stop in and say hi - I know there's been a lot of interest in light of the whole Freelancer's Union... spectacle? Debacle? And reiterate that we are happy to help with any questions we can; obviously we've had a deluge of calls and e-mails so we're not turning around as rapidly as I would like on some people, but we'll do our best to keep up.

    I know a lot of you are interested in Oxford (generally the Metro #2 plan from my conversations), and I do like them a lot as a company - most of the freelancers/sole proprietors we work with are with them. I just want to make sure everyone is aware of one feature of their plans that I don't believe I've seen talked about, since it's a pretty key one. Prescriptions.

    All the Oxford plans have the same drug card - for generic prescriptions you have a $15 copayment, and for any non-generic drugs you would have a co-payment of 50% of the retail cost of that drug, after a deductible of $100 (higher for the HSA plans that most of you don't seem too interested in so I'll spare you). So while there is a prescription benefit, it's not going to be right for everyone. If you have non-generic prescriptions that you take regularly, I'd suggest pricing them with your pharmacy before signing up for this plan - there are a few expensive ones out there, and I'd hate for somebody to sign up then go to the pharmacy and wonder why they have a $500 bill!

    We really do just want to help you guys out, I know you're all in the lurch over this. So if you need anything feel free to give us a call at 212-879-0122. Even if you're not eligible for these plans (FU has had some slightly different requirements in the past than these do), we'll try to point you in the right direction for something.

    ReplyDelete
  71. SUGGESTION

    i have an idea. let's form a team to analyze and compare the various health insurance plans (atlantis, media bistro, fractured atlas, healthy ny, ehealthinsurance.com, empire bc/bs, fic, et al).

    assign one person to each plan. if there are 7 plans, then there are 7 team members, 1 per plan. (some people have already done much of the research and posted it.)

    each person learns as much as possible about the plan s/he is assigned. a comparison chart template is prepared in advance. each team member enters his/her information into this format so that we can compare apples to apples.

    deadline for this is dec 1.

    then we put it all together and post it by dec 15. fu members can then make intelligent choices for themselves.

    ReplyDelete
  72. cynthia, I think that is a great idea, except that each provider has more than one plan, so you'll need to decide which plans will be discussed and compared The hard part is that most of the plans, regardless of providers, are complicated to understand, much less compare. It will be a lot of work to do accurately in the next week; I'd suggest that you have more than one person on a team so that there is substantial cross-checking of information.I wish I could help, but I'm booked with work. Best of luck!

    ReplyDelete
  73. Sara Horowitz, FU's Founder & Executive Director (and now, conveniently, President & CEO of the new Freelancers Insurance Company) was on the Brian Lehrer show this morning (unfortunately Brian himself was off today) discussing the topic of Freelancer security and I was not the only one to notice and point out the hypocrisy of it, considering how Sara and FU have just made many of us freelancers much less secure for 2009...

    My comments on the WNYC website can be found here: LDNY from 11201 ( http://tinyurl.com/6zs92s ) and there are comments on Sara's own Blog (her posts feebly attempt to explain and excuse this horrible thing that they have done to their members) on the FU website: https://be.freelancersunion.org/blog/ -- if you feel as strongly as I do, please leave your comments on those sites, as well as here.

    ReplyDelete
  74. Let's not forget, this is a FOR-PROFIT new company people!!! They are not here to watch out for you as a union should do anymore.

    Most members are in shock right now. Being given 30 days (you need to enroll by the 15th of the previous month to get coverage elsewhere) to research and pick another plan if they plan on leaving FU. It’s time consuming and annoying and so very EXPENSIVE especially at this time of year.

    This is not a very nice thing to do to members especially when FU knew ALL along they were going to open up their own company with such DRASTIC premium/deductibles/co-pays increases compared to what we just had with BS...why so secretive?

    A comparison as to what was offered from BC and what FU was to offer would have made more sense. I can’t believe anything that BC would have put on the table would have been worse. But no...bully us into taking it or leave it? That’s how we feel.

    A lot of members will leave I am sure. And the ones that initially don't...will, that I am sure. The plan is horrible all the way around.

    Now what will FU do then? Maybe they should come to reality that giving BC/BS another option for us would be the RIGHT and moral thing to do? Restructure FU’s offer and make it comparable to BS….something!!!

    FU was built up to HELP people. This is not helping putting people in positions of desperation at a time in history when people can only take so much financially.

    ReplyDelete
  75. Hello
    Are there any notes from the November meeting that we can read? Is there a follow-up meeting scheduled for December?

    Additionally, this is a wonderful blog - but not everyone knows about it. Any ideas on how to disseminate our findings and efforts to the FU constituency body at large?

    Thanks,
    nicole

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