BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Although it's not news to Western New Yorkers, national media are now covering the controversial cosmetic surgery coverage provided to union employees in the Buffalo Public Schools.
WEB EXTRA: Watch Channel 2's previous coverage, dating back years, on this topic by clicking on the links at the bottom
Monday night,a CNN reporter profiled the controversial coverage on "Anderson Cooper 360", detailing how teachers, other workers and their family members are eligible for botox, tummy tucks and breast enhancements, among other procedures. Medically necessary plastic surgery, such as facial reconstruction or burn treatments, would be covered by normal insurance and are not part of the controversial cosmetic "rider", according to district and union representatives.
"The Atlantic", a national magazine, also recently covered the cosmetic coverage.
As 2 On Your Side has reported for nearly a year and a half, the coverage has become more and more expensive. Although it's been around for around 4 decades, in recent years the costs have skyrocketed.
In 2009, the cost was more than $9 million. Last fiscal year, the district spent $5.2 million for the coverage.
2 On Your Side found that few teachers are actually taking advantage. Of the 17,000 people eligible, only about 1,200 actually take advantage. That's only about 7 percent. Of those people, only about 60 were described as "regular users". They spent, on average, more than $30,000 each on elective, cosmetic procedures last year alone.
Many board members and the district administration call the coverage excessive and outrageous considering the current fiscal realities; Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore said he is willing to drop the coverage in the next contract.
The problem has been that teachers have been without a contract for around 8 years.
"They just haven't made us a reasonable offer," Rumore told 2 On Your Side Tuesday. "The Buffalo teachers are among if not the worst paid teachers in Western New York."
Rumore also slammed CNN for its report.
"It's really pathetic that CNN... is going to re-hash a year-and-a-half old story as if there's something momentus about this," Rumore said, adding that he looks forward to dropping the coverage, because that will mean he finally has a new contract for his workers.
Rumore said he's more optimistic now than he has been recently that a new contract can be reached soon. That's because of the improved relationship between the union and the district. Rumore credits the interim superintendent Amber Dixon, who he says he created a "whole different atmosphere."
It should be noted that this coverage is not included in all of the available insurance plans for teachers and other union members. Also, some cosmetic coverage is also available for municipal firefighters and police officers; however, that hasn't received many headlines because of the low cost and because those agencies are not in such dire financial situations.
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