Dec. 2, 2013 – Although counties have sole discretion to choose health care plans for public safety workers, employees can still influence how much their deductibles will be, a state appeals court has ruled, despite the state’s restrictive collective bargaining laws.
Under Wis. Stat. section 111.70(4)(mc)6., municipal employers cannot bargain with collective bargaining units containing “public safety employees” with respect to the “design and selection of health care coverage plans” or the impact of costs and payments associated with such plans on “wages, hours, and conditions of employment.”
Eau Claire County had chosen a health care plan to cover the sheriff’s department. The plan set deductibles that applied to employees and their covered family members. But the plan did not address whether the employer or the employee paid the deductible.
Thus, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA), representing sheriff department employees, proposed that employees would be responsible for paying individual deductibles of $250 or $500 per family under the health plan.
Eau Claire said this type of bargaining was prohibited. Ultimately, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) agreed with the county.
But the Dane County Circuit Court reversed WERC, concluding that choosing a “deductible payment allocation” is separate from choosing a health care plan and health care plan deductibles do not impact wages, hours, or conditions of employment.
In Wisconsin Professional Police Association v. WERC, 2012AP2701 (Nov. 27, 2013), the District IV Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s decision. The panel explained that counties can design and select health care plans that have deductibles without negotiation, but the deductible “allocation” is a different matter.
“[T]he deductible payment allocation cannot be an impact of the design and selection of a plan because it is not part of the design and selection of a plan,” wrote Judge Brian Blanchard for the three-judge appeals court panel.
“[W]e agree with the Association that we would need to read new language into Wis. Stat. § 111.70(4)(mc)6. in order to conclude that bargaining is prohibited regarding how a plan’s required deductible is paid,” Judge Blanchard wrote.
The appeals court rejected the county’s argument that the manifest purpose of section 111.70(4)(mc)6 is to curb health insurance costs so allowing collective bargaining on the deductible issue cuts against the whole purpose of the law.
“If the plain language of Wis. Stat. § 111.70(4)(mc)6. does not prohibit bargaining regarding the deductible payment allocation, as we have concluded, then our analysis ends there and we have no reason to consider general purposes of the legislature, such as the purpose to reduce employer costs,” Judge Blanchard noted.
Under the statute, counties can still bargain on the amount public safety employees pay for insurance “premiums,” the panel pointed out, which undermines any “manifest purpose” argument that they could not bargain on deductibles.