Hospital workers spread the truth about their own health insurance


A series of newspaper ads this week highlights in stark terms how the failure of some Twin Cities hospitals to provide affordable health insurance to their workers harms the lives of those workers and their families.

The ads are running in the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press until Friday, when SEIU Local 113 heads back into contract negotiations with nine Twin Cities hospitals. There, 3,300 nursing assistants, dietary workers, housekeeping staff and others have been working without a contract since March 10.

The ads highlight the real stories of Local 113 members like Sarah Landis, a nursing assistant at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. Landis’ family is going without health insurance because it would cost more than $500 a month to cover herself, her husband and their 2-year-old and 6-year-old daughters.

“It comes down to having health insurance or having a place to live,” Landis said at a Capitol news conference Tuesday unveiling the union’s ads. “I take care of your children,” Landis said, “but with the cost of health insurance, I can’t afford to take care of my own.”

Lose a job, kiss insurance goodbye
Bennie Ray Cromedy, a nursing assistant at Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina, is in a similar situation. When Fairview unveiled its new health insurance last year, Cromedy’s costs would have more than doubled—increasing more than $300 a month to cover himself, his wife, their 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son.

So he covered himself and his son—at $198 a month in premiums—while his wife covered herself and their daughter through her insurance. But his wife lost her job in March, meaning half the family must risk going without insurance at least until next October, when open enrollment resumes at Fairview.

“Fairview has put my family in an impossible situation,” Cromedy said. “Everyone thinks because I work in a hospital we get cheap or free insurance. But we don’t.”

Cromedy and Landis are also examples of workers caught in a squeeze—they make too much money to enroll in tax-subsidized MinnesotaCare for workers, but not enough money to afford the insurance their employers provide.

“We really are the working poor,” Cromedy said.

State assistance covers kids
Pam Uhlenkott, a phlebotomist and EKG technician at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, doesn’t have much better options. Her family lost health insurance when her husband was no longer able to work after becoming disabled by accelerating arthritic conditions.

“I work in a hospital and I think one of the last things people expect is that we couldn’t afford decent health care,” she said.

The only way her 7-year-old twin daughters get health insurance is because Uhlenkott is able to enroll them in the state’s Medical Assistance program. To cover herself and her husband, Uhlenkott must pay $196 a month in premiums, plus more than $180 a month more in co-pays for her husband’s medications.

The only way they’re going to be able to make ends meet, she said, is to sell their Andover home and move somewhere further out an more affordable.

“No one should have to make that kind of decision—to put your kids on public assistance,” Uhlenkott said. “We’re being forced to make decisions that no family should make.”

Are hospitals the solution or the problem?
Local 113 president contrasted the positions of the nine hospitals with Allina, which formed an alliance with Local 113 earlier this year to work together to make insurance more affordable for hospital workers.
The hold-out hospitals all are nonprofit, tax-exempt, charitable institutions, Schnell said. Combined, they made $160 million in profit in 2004, she said. “If we can’t count on hospitals to do the right thing, who can we count on?… The very centers of health care are themselves contributing to our crisis.”

Negotiators have not met since March 10, when hospitals broke off talks after giving what they called their “final, best, last offer.” The negotiations affect workers at HealthEast St. John’s in Maplewood, HealthEast Bethesda Rehabilitation Hospitals in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Children’s Hospitals in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Fairview University Medical Center Riverside in Minneapolis, Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina, North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, and Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park.

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