Health care staff protests insurance

Some employees find MedChoice, the new insurance program at Fairview, confusing.

Jamie VanGeest

Hundreds of health care workers lined up single file with purple glow sticks shining as they marched around the University Medical Center, Fairview Riverside.

Pharmacists, licensed practical nurses, maintenance and service workers gathered Wednesday to kick off the negotiations between service and maintenance workers and Fairview.

The contract for the workers expires Feb. 28 and negotiations begin this week, said Julie Schell, the president of Service Employees International Union Local 113.

Schell and other members of the union will represent workers at the bargaining table. A negotiator from the Minnesota Hospital Association will represent Fairview, she said.

“Our goal is to continue to improve the quality of care for patients’ families and communities,” Schell said.

One of the main issues is the new MedChoice plan introduced for open enrollment in 2006.

Fairview chose MedChoice to offset some of the rising costs in health care, which gives employees different choices that cater to their needs, said Ryan Davenport, a spokesman for the medical center.

Schell claims that the plan results in 52 different health care options, which make MedChoice confusing and more expensive in the end.

Lane Toring was a former pharmacist at Fairview Riverside until the new MedChoice plan was initiated.

“My out-of-pocket expenses increased from $3,000 to $10,000 a year,” Toring said.

Because of this, she took a position at Abbott Northwestern Hospital because it offered better employee benefits, she said.

Davenport said there are only four options, not 52 like Schell claimed.

Also, Fairview has taken on the higher costs of health care with the new plan, like the employees.

But Fairview believes the new plan is a good option, considering the rising cost of health care across the board.

“We’re very excited about the new plan and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from employees,” Davenport said.

But Davenport said Fairview respects the right of their employees to express their views and their opinions.

“It’s difficult to find a plan that will satisfy all 13,000 benefit-eligible employees in Fairview,” Davenport said.

Schell has also filed a grievance against Fairview because the union feels the new plan violates the agreement made between them and Fairview three years earlier.

Sister and brother Kjersten and Kinsey Nelson, both University students, came to support Kjersten’s husband who is an organizer in the union.

“All of the people in these negotiations do the dirty work,” Kjersten Nelsons. “They deserve decent health care.”

Kjersten Nelson, who is a political science graduate student, said the topic is “ironic, considering they’re health care workers.”

Kinsey Nelson, a third-year medical student, said he supports health care workers having good insurance in all situations.