The Association of U S West Retirees



Qwest workers face health premium
For first time, union members to pay part of cost
By Jeff Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, August 30, 2008

Qwest union employees will pay a portion of their health care premiums for the first time in 2009, with costs ranging from $33 a month for individuals to $75 for family coverage, according to a copy of the agreement.

Post-1990 retirees also will face premiums for the first time, ranging from $75 a month for individual non-Medicare coverage to as much as $408 a month for family coverage.

Pre-1991 retirees are protected from increased health care costs by a legal agreement fashioned more than a decade ago.

The three-year labor agreement between Qwest and its two unions, hammered out during the early hours of Aug. 18, still must be ratified by 20,000 union workers.  Voting is expected to be completed by late September.  Union workers are receiving a 9.37 percent wage increase over three years.

Officials with the Communications Workers of America, Qwest's major union, indicated previously the agreement included increased health care costs, but wouldn't disclose specific details.  Deductibles and copays also are going up.

The agreement reflects the times, with most companies across the country now requiring employees to pay a portion of their premiums.  In fact, Qwest union employees are faring better than most.  Still, it's an added cost, especially for most retirees.

"It's not as devastating as it might have been, but if you're on a fixed income it's worrisome," said Mimi Hull, president of the Association of U S West Retirees.

She also noted those who took buyouts in recent years may be looking at the $400-a-month premium for family coverage.

CWA officials have said the union achieved the best settlement possible in light of the Denver telco's financial condition and rising health care costs.

"We were caught between," Al Kogler, CWA spokesman, said Friday.  "We think the permanent solution to the health care crisis is going to be at the ballot box and not the bargaining table."

Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs characterized the health care contributions by employees and retirees as modest.

"Broadly speaking, we were pleased to be able to work together in confronting an issue that all businesses are confronting -- and that's rising health care costs," Toevs said.

The CWA bargaining committee said in a letter to its members that Qwest has the 13th largest amount of retiree health obligations among U.S. companies.

Qwest spent $672 million in 2006 to provide health care to 87,600 employees and retirees.  Costs increased another 8.8 percent in 2007, according to the CWA. or 303-954-5155

Chipping in on health care

In 2009, Qwest union employees and post-1990 retirees will pay for a portion of their health care premiums for the first time.  Deductibles and co-pays also will increase.  Here's a look at the premium costs:

*  Employees: $33 a month for individuals, rising to $42 by 2011. $75 a month for family coverage, rising to $93 by 2011.  Annual deductibles for individuals will increase from $150 to $200; for families from $300 to $400.

*  Post-1990 retirees (non-Medicare): $75 a month for individual coverage; $408 a month for family coverage. In 2010 and 2011, a formula will determine premiums.

*  Qwest no longer will reimburse Medicare retirees from a portion of their Medicare Part B premium.  The standard premium in 2008 was $96.40 a month for individuals with annual incomes under $82,000.