NJEA Execs Demand Continuation of $700/Hour Acupuncture Sessions — On Your Dime.

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Say NO to pension and benefit attacks!

Legislation recently introduced by Senate President Steve Sweeney threatens the pensions and health benefits of NJEA members and other public employees. Instead of finding ways for the state to meet its obligations to working families, starting with a millionaires tax to restore tax fairness to New Jersey, Sen. Sweeney wants to slash benefits and make it even harder for school employees to support their families. It would be a path to poverty for public employees and our families.

Contact your legislators today. Tell them to stand with working people and reject this attack on the pensions and benefits we have worked so hard to earn!

That’s your NJEA executives, folks, urging members to fight pension and benefits reform, particularly Senate President Steve Sweeney’s “Path to Progress.” Sweeney’s plan aims to fix our current health and benefits system which is the most underfunded in the country, particularly the Teachers Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF). From Path to Progress:

The State’s combined pension and retiree health benefit liabilities of $151.5 billion are four times the size of the State’s annual budget; and more than three times the size of the State’s bonded debt.  That public employee debt represents $16,772 for every one of New Jersey’s nine million residents, it will continue to grow every year. Without changes to the pension and benefit structure, the cost of pensions and benefits will rise by $4.1 billion over the next four years and eat up 26 percent of the state budget.

Wow. Twenty-six percent of our annual state budget? A liability of $16,772 for every NJ resident? That’s a lot. This fiscal predicament has many fathers, including underpayments, lack of accountability, and “platinum” level health plans for NJEA members, far more generous than either those offered in the private sector and other public worker plans.

Just how platinum are those plans?

Yesterday Propublica put out a report of health plans that cover the 158,000 NJEA members (about a third of school districts) that are enrolled in the state’s Employees’ Health Benefits Program. Here are some highlights from “What Happens When a Healthcare Plan Has No Limits?”

  • “Unbeknownst” to teachers, “their benefit plan has a lucrative carveout for out-of-network providers. And it’s a big one: The teachers’ plan will cover virtually anything they charge.”
  • The main offenders of this carve-out are acupuncturists, chiropractors and physical therapists.
  • Examples: ” The state paid Thompson Healthcare & Sports Medicine, with 10 clinics along the Jersey Shore, about $11.2 million in 2018 for providing chiropractic services, acupuncture and physical therapy to teachers.”
  • At Advanced Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, which has offices in Red Bank and Central Jersey, “each acupuncture patient enjoys an hourlong, one-on-one session in a ‘state of the art’ soundproof treatment room with a high-end sound system, said co-owner Daniel Reizis, who is a physical therapist. The practice even had an acupuncturist flown in from Japan, he said. ‘That’s why we have five stars across the board.'” Each session costs $700, which is paid in full by the state.
  • “Out-of-network acupuncturists were paid an average of $377 per visit from the teachers’ plan while the state workers’ plan paid $144. For chiropractor visits, it was $121 compared with $25.”
  • “In 2018, the teachers’ plan paid more than $1 million for 3,308 patient visits to a single acupuncturist at Palluzzi Health Center in Old Bridge, the data shows. That would require the acupuncturist to have treated about 13 school employees every day for the entire year, given a five-day workweek. Through his attorney, Dr. Edward Palluzzi, the chiropractor who founded the clinic, declined to be interviewed.”
  • “According to the state data, almost 50 acupuncturists were paid at least $400 on average per session from the teachers’ plan in 2018.” (Propublica compares this to payments to gynecologists, which are $285.)

What’s up with this? A six-member committee oversees the state healthcare plan for teachers and one of the members acknowledges that the plan is in sore need of adjustment. From the article:

Yet to date, no action has been taken because the committee requires a majority vote to make changes. Three members represent teachers unions. And three work for the Treasury Department, which runs the health plan. Two of those members also serve on the plan design committee for the state workers’ plan, which voted unanimously to cap the out-of-network payments.

Stop the madness!

But we don’t because Sweeney’s proposals-–shifting plans from platinum to gold and requiring third-party audits of all healthcare claims— are non-starters for NJEA top brass. Said NJEA President Marie Blistan last Spring, “Proposals to further raise costs or slash benefits will irreparably harm our profession and our schools, and NJEA members will join as one to fight them.”

Meanwhile, how do I get in on free (for me!) $700/hour accupuncture sessions?

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