Health care is a right, not a privilege, and Rutgers as the State University has an obligation to make sure that it is affordable for its employees, for its patients and for the communities in which we live and work.
Since Governor Christie signed legislation in 2011 (Chapter 78), public employees, including Rutgers faculty and staff, have seen their health care costs increase dramatically. An average faculty member that paid $1,755 for family coverage in 2011 now pays over $10,000 for that same coverage. Chapter 78 also barred unions from negotiating over health care costs for a period of time that has now expired.
Now is our opportunity to negotiate over how much our members pay for health coverage. It’s also an opportunity to make sure that health coverage is extended to all Rutgers employees, including PTLs.
In a merged Rutgers that now provides health services and has the capability to partner with hospitals, medical centers and doctor/provider networks, we must advocate that those services and those partnerships respect our employees and communities by providing the highest quality medical treatment with greater access to primary and preventative care. As an academic institution and public research university, we are obligated to provide for the common good in our health education, medical research, public health policy statements and our patient care.
Through the state Plan Design Committee, our union has been fighting to maintain quality coverage while minimizing premium increases. For 2018 we actually avoided a premium increase all together and we’ve instituted some innovative plan design options for members to further lower costs. The Horizon Omnia and Aetna Freedom plans work for many of our members who get their health care here in New Jersey. These tiered network plans have premiums that are 25% lower than Direct 15 plans. One-time incentives ranging from $1,000 – $2,000 to join a tiered network plan have also been offered.
We’ve created two pilot programs that we hope will result in better overall health for our members and families, but also lower overall costs for the state plans which in turn lowers premiums for members. The first is up and running and incentivizes direct primary care by waving al co-pays and giving greater direct and remote access to a primary care doctor. There is a new center here in New Brunswick and several are available in the surrounding area of the Camden campus. In addition, there’s a center in Clifton, New Jersey for those near the Newark campus. The other pilot is specific to Rutgers and encourages members to achieve and maintain better health through monetary incentives that can apply to themselves and one other family member. Those incentives could reach $1,500 per family. We’re hopeful that this pilot will be rolling out soon.
We now head to the bargaining table to demand relief from the manufactured austerity imposed by Chris Christie and Rutgers management.
Tuition and College Affordability
Rutgers simply costs too much. Since 2000, in-state tuition and mandatory fees have soared to $14,000, among the highest rates for a public institution in the US. That price tag compromises our primary pedagogical mission, the economic and political enfranchisement of the widest swathe of New Jerseyans. Something must be done. The Union proposes to expand the statewide Educational Opportunity Fund programs while freezing Rutgers tuition at the 2017 level.
The AAUP-AFT faculty union has worked to restore college affordability on two levels. Internally, we have campaigned for a tuition freeze. Indeed, in 2016 – the Rutgers anniversary year – we joined students in a call for a one-time permanent reduction in the tuition rate: “-2.50% for the 250th.” The Administration did not agree to that reduction, but in 2017 it held the increase to 1.7%, the lowest increase in many years. Externally, at the state level, we have advocated forcefully for more student aid. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, we joined with students and alumni of the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) to defend that program. Over three years, Governor Christie proposed to cut the program by a total of nearly $8 million. Our union-led campaign overturned those cuts and, indeed, injected additional resources to EOF. Over three years, these efforts have protected and added over $13 million in funding for New Jersey’s neediest students and families, making college possible for many who would otherwise have been shut out.
During the Murphy administration, we hope to expand EOF substantially. The Union proposes to raise the threshold of eligibility from $49,200 for a family of four to $60,000 this coming year and then $72,222 (the state median for a family of four) for July 1, 2019. And we would like to extend EOF and Tuition Aid Grants (TAG) to Dreamers as well. These reforms would make a Rutgers education tuition-free for fully half the families in New Jersey. The program, moreover, would continue to provide a dedicated counsellor to each student, a signal advantage of EOF. Undisrupted by the need to transfer, these well-advised students benefit fully from Rutgers and earn their degrees quicker than their peers.
But Old Queens needs to do its part too. The Union proposes that Rutgers freeze tuition in 2018. This leveling-off would make education marginally more affordable to all students. The move would also stretch EOF further than otherwise, allowing the program to support more students at Rutgers and elsewhere. If this freeze comes at a cost, the administration could tap a number of well-stocked piggy banks – not least the ever-growing unrestricted reserves. Alternatively, the Administration could reduce extraneous fees unrelated to education. For 2018-2019, the Athletic Department anticipates receiving a subsidy of $12.1 from mandatory student fees. That allocation costs each undergrad $242 and represents slightly more than 1.7% of the total in-state bill. An Athletic Department compelled to live within its means – as are all the other auxiliary enterprises of the University – would allow Rutgers to stabilize tuition at the 2017 benchmark.