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Hospital, union at odds over health insurance offerings

The specter of health care workers who can't afford health care was raised by a union official Wednesday, ahead of today's scheduled picketing outside Medina Memorial Hospital.

Health insurance for 325 employees of Orleans Community Health, which owns Medina Memorial and other health care agencies in Orleans County, has emerged as the key issue.

Bruce Popper, chief negotiator for Local 1199, Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers East, said contract talks broke down Saturday, largely over health insurance.

"We're not asking for the world, but we demand affordable health care," Popper said.

Two years ago, the hospital altered its health insurance packages, offering high-deductible plans that were less expensive for the hospital and more expensive for the workers.

SEIU filed a grievance over that, but an arbitrator ruled Medina Memorial had the right to make the switch. The union's position at the bargaining table is that the health insurance format that existed until 2010 should be restored.

At that time, the hospital was paying 81 percent of the premium for single coverage and 65 percent of the premium for family coverage in the most expensive option.

According to a union document provided to The Buffalo News, the hospital is now paying 67 percent of the single premium and 56 percent of the family premium for the most expensive policy.

"Yes, the employees pay a lot of money. Health insurance is expensive," said Mary Williams, the hospital's human resources director.

Popper said the result was the shifting of some $250,000 in premium costs to employees. Meanwhile, the high-deductible plan hiked the deductible from $3,000 to $4,000 for a family plan and from $1,500 to $2,000 for single coverage.

The union figures show the hospital continues to pay 90 percent of the premium for a less-expensive plan for single coverage and 75 percent for family coverage. The cheapest family plan costs a worker $215 a month, the union said.

"Our goal was to have a plan that would be affordable for our lower-paid employees that would protect them from catastrophic medical expenses and [offer] preventive care," Williams said.

"I've got people making less than $10 an hour," Popper said. "I've got people dropping family coverage. I've got people going in hock to pay the deductibles."

Williams said, "The first goal is to provide health care for the community, and the second is to provide jobs for our employees. In order to do that, we have to look at the financial viability of the hospital."

Williams said Orleans Community is offering 1 percent pay raises in each of the next three years, with adjustments for certain jobs considered hard to fill.

The union also is attempting to get an increase and assurances of continuation for the 3 percent employer match for contributions to retirement accounts.