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NYC Labor Unions Jeer ‘Out of Control’ Healthcare Costs

December 13, 2019

By Joe Maniscalco

Like her union brothers and sisters, commercial cleaner Luchiana Owens fears skyrocketing healthcare costs threaten her family’s welfare.

New York, NY – Two of the most powerful labor unions in the city and their allies are mad as hell at the skyrocketing cost of healthcare in this town and the “irrational” hospital billing that’s become the financial equivalent of “Russian roulette.”

City Council Members Mark Levine [D-7th District] and Fernando Cabrera [D-14th District] joined with members of 32BJ SEIU and DC37 ahead of a joint oversight hearing of the Committee on Health and Hospitals on Thursday, December 12, demanding that steps be taken to “rein in” costs for the good of the city, patients and workers. 

“You never know if you’re going to walk out [of the hospital] with healthcare debt in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars — that is a burden on patients, it’s a burden on labor unions and our city — and we are sick and tired of it,” Levine said. 

The Health Committee chair pinned the blame on a trifecta of healthcare industry players: pharmaceutical companies charging “obscene prices on drugs people need to live” — insurance companies “with their multi-billion profits that only seem to grow, [and] that are imposting secretive unfair contracts on this sector” — and hospitals which are “charging incredible, often outrageous prices for even the most routine procedures, sometimes thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.”

In testimony delivered during Thursday’s hearing, DC37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said that New York City’s non-profit, private hospital systems are not doing their part to contain costs.

Grim-faced 32BJ members want the city to help rein in exploding healthcare costs.

“The largest five hospital systems that dominate NYC still find ways to increase their costs by 7, 8, 10-percent each year — year after year, after year,” he added. “These costs are then passed on to us employers, participants and labor organizations that provide health care to NYC’s working families.”

Larry Engelstein, 32BJ SEIU secretary-treasurer and Health Fund trustee, complained that the same procedure at one hospital can cost six-times as much on average as another hospital chain. 

“There is no rationality,” Engelstein said. “You cannot walk into the hospital and know what you’re going to be charged. You go there for a procedure, you get whacked with an out-of-network doctor, and then you get surprise billing that is exorbitant. We need to have rationality, we need to have clarity, we need to have transparency — and we need them to modulate their prices so we can maintain affordable, accessible, quality healthcare in this city.”

Unions comprising the Municipal Labor Committee insist they are already doing their part to reduce hospital bills with changes in the design of their health plans — yet health care costs in NYC continue to explode. According to 32BJ Health Fund Director Sara Rothstein, one of the “major drivers” is the high cost of out-of-network care. 

“Sometimes, a member will see an out of network doctor on a planned basis, but members are often treated by out of network doctors in the emergency room or when they are admitted to the hospital for emergencies or go for a planned admission – like childbirth – and are unknowingly treated by doctors who are out of network,” Rothstein said in a statement delivered at Thursday’s hearing. “Members go to in-network hospitals thinking that the doctors will all take the same insurance as the hospital. When a doctor is out of network, there is no pre-negotiated rate for payment and doctors can bill as much as they want.”

As a member of 32BJ SEIU for the last 17 years, commercial cleaner Luchiana Owens is spared high premiums and is confident that she and her children can visit a doctor without the risk of “financial troubles.”

But she still feels under threat. 

“I ask that the council take action and help contain healthcare costs so that working people can continue to build a good life for themselves and their families here in New York City,” she said. 

December 13, 2019

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