Fairview, health workers negotiate

A union filed a complaint against Fairview over new health care plans.

Angela Gray

The University Medical Center, Fairview, is talking health care contracts with its health care workers.

Negotiations started last week. The health care workers contract expires Feb. 28.

The Service Employee International Union Local 113 will represent health care workers at the bargaining table.

Holly Rodin, senior field researcher for the union, said it filed a grievance against Fairview because the union thought Fairview’s new health care plan violated conditions of previous agreements.

“We feel (Fairview) should not have taken unilateral action without negotiating the new terms with us,” she said.

Rodin said there was no resolution to the filed grievance. Therefore, the union will proceed with arbitration and negotiation.

She said the main issue at the bargaining table is the new MedChoice plan.

Other core issues concern health care, employment security, dignity and respect, fair union representation process, wages and pensions, Rodin said.

The controversy behind Fairview’s MedChoice plan is the increase in costs shifting to employees and the disadvantages of the plan for larger families.

“Larger families end up paying higher premiums, higher out-of-pocket expenses,” she said.

The way the system is laid out, it seems there are four choices, but depending on different combinations of the four choices, the entire work force actually has 52 different plans to choose from, Rodin said.

“It’s funny because the complication with the new plan is the complication in itself,” she said. “It’s so complicated; there is no paper signup, it’s all online.”

Ryan Davenport, a spokesman for Fairview, said employees make four decisions: annual deductible amount and out-of-pocket maximum (starting with zero and increasing), co-insurance level, office visit co-pay ($15 or $25), and prescription drug coverage levels.

Fairview chose the MedChoice plan to offset some of the rising costs in health care, which gives employees different choices that cater to their needs, he said.

Fairview is paying significantly more in the 2006 contract. Fairview pays at least 75 percent of an employee’s health care plan premium, according to Fairview’s Web site.

Davenport said most employees will not see a significant increase in premiums deducted from their paychecks; in fact, he said, most employee premiums will decrease.

Rodin said the overall goals with negotiations are to have employers pay the entire premium cost for employees’ health insurance and address out-of-pocket cost issues.

“Optimistically, we’d like to improve the contract language and make health care affordable for health care workers,” she said.

Davenport said Fairview hopes for a successful conclusion to the negotiation.

“We value the important contributions and appreciate the hard work they do,” he said.

Candace Lund, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3937 president, said the basic union philosophy is to try to do the most for the largest amount of people.

“With multiple health care options and tier systems, it divides people,” she said. “It forces the sick against the healthy and the old versus young,” she said.

Lund said there is no shared risk. The young and healthy take the cheapest plan and the old and sick have no choice but to face the highest costs.

Rodin said the national trend, seen in companies such as Ford and General Motors tends to favor more cost shifting.

“We’re saying it’s a bad trend; cost shifting causes people to put money on the table as an attempt to be better consumers,” she said.

Cost shifting ends up as a way for the employers to reduce their liability and increase their employees’ liabilities, Rodin said.

“The trend needs to focus more toward how to produce the highest quality of health insurance the most effectively, and to the largest pool of people,” she said.