U health care workers rally against rising insurance costs

The workers fear they cannot afford the increased deductibles their employer put in place.

by Kyle Potter

A group of roughly 30 University of Minnesota health care workers gathered to rally against rising insurance costs outside the Mayo Memorial Building on Wednesday afternoon.
The workers, who schedule appointments and check in patients at University of Minnesota PhysiciansâÄô clinics across the state, fear they cannot afford the increased deductibles their employer put in place.
âÄúHealth care for health care workers!âÄù rang out in the plaza as the workers chanted in unison.
Patients pay out-of-pocket deductibles before the insurer begins payment on a hospital bill. UMP enacted a $2,500 deductible for an adult and a $5,000 deductible for family care âÄî both double the cost from the prior contract.
The increases took effect at the beginning of the year while the contract was being settled.
Phillip Erickson, a UMP employee who works in the Phillips-Wangensteen Building, said he cannot afford the increased deductible for himself or his 16-year-old son.
âÄúTheyâÄôve got to help us out a little bit more so we can afford to go to our own clinics.âÄù
Frontline workers like Erickson make an average of $36,000 a year, according to a local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union bargaining on behalf of Erickson and his co-workers.
The two sides are locked in a contract negotiation that has progressed little since it began in December, primarily because of disputes over health benefits. TheyâÄôll meet at the negotiating table again Tuesday. Both parties are hopeful an agreement can be reached before talks of a strike emerge.
Health insurance costs have risen significantly, UMPâÄôs Senior Vice President for Human Resources Cathy Hart said, and some of those costs needed to be passed on to employees.
At its clinics, many of which are on or around campus, UMP employs more than 1,400 health care professionals and staff like Erickson.
âÄúWe still have above-market contributions to our benefit plans,âÄù Hart said.
With signs and a megaphone, the protesters braved cold weather, snow and rain to rally against âÄúunfair costsâÄù in the secluded plaza.
Before long, the protesters crammed into two elevators to go up three floors and down the hall to deliver a petition to Medical School Dean Aaron Friedman, asking for his help in their fight.
Executive Vice Dean of the Medical School Mark Paller promised to pass along the message before hurriedly leaving FriedmanâÄôs office to catch a flight.
âÄúI appreciate knowing about this, because we do need to do something about it,âÄù Paller told the workers.
In response to the workersâÄô demands, UMP has offered a subsidized health care plan that cuts costs between 55 and 95 percent for employees who fall into a certain income bracket.
Union representative and negotiator Kurt Errickson called the offer âÄúa good start, but it really doesnâÄôt go far enough.âÄù
The new discount system wouldnâÄôt cover costly âÄúfacility feesâÄù at clinics that UMP operates but doesnâÄôt own, like the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, he said.
Throughout the rally, Errickson expressed concern over the amount of money UMP gives to the Medical School each year âÄî $62 million in 2010, according to a report from the Medical School.
Why not use some of that money to absorb the blow of rising costs, Errickson asked.
But Hart said one of UMPâÄôs core missions is to support and fund the Medical School.
âÄúItâÄôs not as simple as peeling back money that we give to the Medical School,âÄù she said.
After his short conversation with Paller, Errickson patted the backs of his fellow protesters on a job well done and bid them farewell.
âÄúWe hope that this is going to make an impression and that weâÄôll be able to see an improvement [in negotiations],âÄù Errickson said.