Published December 21, 2012
Health changes frustrate union employees at ProvidenceROLF BOONE
Unionized workers at Providence St. Peter Hospital claim the hospital is cutting costs at the expense of their health. Providence officials counter that the proposed changes, which are set to take effect Jan. 1, do not amount to a reduction in coverage. “We are asking them to take steps to be more engaged in their care,” said Susan Meenk, vice president of human resources for the hospital. About 600 people who work in admitting, environmental health, housekeeping and dietary functions are represented by the Service Employees International Union Healthcare, Local 1199NW. A vigil was set for 5 p.m. Thursday on the Providence St. Peter campus to call attention to the union’s concerns. About 200 people were expected to attend, SEIU spokeswoman Julie Popper said Thursday. Providence is offering three health care plans that members can choose from for next year: a health savings account, a health reimbursement account and a more traditional health care plan offered through Group Health. Union members are frustrated because the two account-based plans — the HSA and the HRA — replace a more traditional health care plan. And members used to have a choice of two Group Health plans that have been merged. Kristi Curtis, 38, a health unit coordinator and SEIU member, has worked at the hospital for 16 years. She said the changes place more of a health care burden on workers. “It’s such a step backward,” she said. “It’s appalling.” Curtis compared the health care rollbacks to the changes companies and organizations have made to retirement plans over the years, noting the shift away from pensions to 401(k) plans. The union’s message to Providence is to “take care of your employees” and that there should be “no takeaways,” Curtis said. If employees select one of the account-based plans, which typically have higher deductible and out-of-pocket expenses, they receive funding from Providence to the tune of $700 — or $1,400 for a family — that can be used for medical expenses. The money also can be rolled over year-to-year for the employee and family to use. To receive the seed money, employees must participate in wellness screenings, such as for high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes. The screenings are free and the results are confidential. Employees also must identify a primary care provider as part of the process, although that’s as simple as stating who one’s doctor is, Providence spokeswoman Deborah Shawver said. “We believe this is a strong plan design that not only protects employees from catastrophic costs but also gives employees choice with their medical plans and allows them to be involved in their own care,” Providence said in a statement to employees.