Hawaii government workers might be able to drop Kaiser health insurance [The Honolulu Star-Advertiser]
Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Dec. 6—The state agency that provides health insurance benefits to government workers in Hawaii is considering offering employees a special open enrollment period to allow them to switch their health coverage from Kaiser Permanente to the Hawaii Medical Service Association due to the protracted strike by Kaiser's mental health clinicians.
The state agency that provides health insurance benefits to government workers in Hawaii is considering offering employees a special open enrollment period to allow them to switch their health coverage from Kaiser Permanente to the Hawaii Medical Service Association due to the protracted strike by Kaiser's mental health clinicians.
The board overseeing the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund plans to take up the matter during a public meeting today amid concerns that employees with Kaiser health insurance are struggling to access mental health and behavioral health services.
Active employees may be provided a special enrollment period that extends through Dec. 23 or informed that they can submit an appeal to EUTF seeking to switch their insurance plan, according to a staff submittal outlining the agenda item.
The EUTF is the largest purchaser of health insurance in the state, providing health insurance benefits to all eligible state and county workers throughout Hawaii. It covers approximately 68, 000 active employees plus 60, 000 of their dependents, as well as 47, 000 retirees and 20, 000 of their dependents.
The approximately 60 Kaiser clinicians, including psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and chemical dependency counselors, have been striking for about 100 days, in what is believed to be the longest strike of mental health care workers in U.S. history, according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers, the union representing them.
"I have very serious concerns about Kaiser's mental health serv ices and the impact of the ongoing strike on our members' access to potentially life-saving care, " Hawaii State Teachers Association President Osa Tui, who also serves on the EUTF board of trustees, said in union news release. "We need to learn more about the availability of Kaiser's mental health services and make sure that our members are getting the care they need to receive."
The Kaiser clinicians have argued that understaffing at Kaiser's health clinics has led to overwhelming caseloads and that Kaiser needs to improve its compensation package to attract new hires. The union says that during contract negotiations, Kaiser management has instead been proposing lower salaries and slashing retirement benefits for new hires. The union said in November that Kaiser was proposing starting pay for many Kaiser mental health therapists that was about 20 % less than their counterparts in Northern California.
Kaiser, in turn, has said that the NUHW is employing standard negotiating tactics, and has criticized the union employees for walking off the job.
"Unfortunately, NUHW has a standard strategy that it uses in bargaining on the mainland, including strikes, and making unsubstantiated claims to try to create undue concern about access to mental health care serv ices, " Kaiser said in a statement.
Kaiser says that it has a plan in place to attract more mental health clinicians and that it has more than 100 contracted mental health providers that are accepting new patients.
"We are very grateful to our new and existing community providers and the nearly 40 % of Kaiser Permanente therapists who have chosen to come to work and care for our patients during the strike, " said Kaiser. "It saddens us that the current strike is putting many of our therapists through unnecessary stress and sacrifice and disrupting care for patients—while doing nothing to help reach an agreement."
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