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Clinton's Health Plan : Health Plan: A User's Guide : Reform Will Affect All Americans : BLUE-COLLAR WORKERS : 'It's all up in the air'

September 26, 1993|JACK CHEEVERS

For 22 years, John Dominguez worked at the vast General Motors plant in Van Nuys and enjoyed a strong package of health benefits negotiated by his union, the United Auto Workers.

But GM closed its assembly plant last year and laid off more than 3,000 workers. Dominguez, an electrician, worked until August helping to dismantle the plant. Now he is unemployed.

He has continued to receive health benefits and some salary under a contract between the auto maker and his union, but Dominguez expects that to stop as early as next March.

"It's all up in the air," said Dominguez, a father of three who lives in Palmdale.

President Clinton's health reform plan cannot be enacted soon enough for Dominguez. For him and the millions of other blue-collar workers in the nation's shrinking manufacturing sector, a national health care card promises long-term security.

For those who are still employed, there would be little if any change in the benefit packages they now enjoy. And for those who lose their jobs, it would mean long-term continuity of coverage that they do not have under the current system.

Through the UAW contract, Dominguez and his family still participate in a Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization. Dominguez, a self-described "health nut," said he has paid virtually nothing for years for medical care for himself and his wife, daughter and two sons.

The couple is separated but his wife, a loan underwriter with no coverage through her job, is still under the Kaiser plan. GM says it pays an average of $6,800 yearly toward the health care costs of families of hourly workers such as Dominguez.

Clinton Administration officials estimate that under their plan, Dominguez's type of HMO coverage would cost an average of $4,200 a year nationally, although perhaps somewhat more in California. For that reason, big companies with heavy benefit costs, such as General Motors, strongly favor the Clinton plan.

If the President's plan were in effect now, Dominguez would be able to participate in the HMO indefinitely. His right to health insurance would not depend on his being employed. GM would have to contribute 80% of Dominguez's HMO fee for six months after laying him off. After that, his share of the premium would be subsidized entirely by the government if his income fell below 250% of the official poverty level.

But under the current health care system, Dominguez faces a period of no health care coverage after March. And having grown accustomed to earning $35,000 to $40,000 a year with GM, he figures he will be lucky to make $20,000 this year, mostly from guaranteed wages under the UAW contract with GM. That will leave him trying to buy a private insurance policy out of reduced earnings.

Dominguez said that his family's medical care was very good under Kaiser. His younger son was injured recently at football practice and taken to the Kaiser hospital in Lancaster for an examination. "In 20 minutes we were out of there--from X-rays and seeing the doctors to making a determination" that his son was OK, he said.

Dominguez said that GM has made him about 20 job offers at company facilities elsewhere in the nation, but that he wants to stay in California. He is also looking for work outside the auto firm but has no definite prospects yet.

If he decides against taking a new GM job, he wants to join a firm that has a strong health benefits package, he said. Under Clinton's plan, that would be any company.

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