August 25, 2009

Why co-ops are bad for us.

This NY Times talks about co-ops and why they are no substitute for a robust public option.

Prescriptions: So What’s a Health Insurance Co-op, Anyway?
Published: August 17, 2009
Health insurance cooperatives aren't a new idea, but they are now the likeliest alternative to a public insurance option.


As you know, much is still happening on the national health reform debate to once and for all lower health care costs and ensure affordable, high-quality health care for all.

Keep in touch with what you can do by going to the Federation website, > Action Center.

One tangible result of recent job actions

Recent job actions on a wide array of issues at Western State Hospital has yielded a tangible result for our members in Mental Health.

The Department of Social and Health Services has withdrawn its proposal to reallocate psychiatric security nurses to the licensed practical nurse classification. The news came Aug. 18. A demand to bargain meeting had been set for Aug. 31.

The withdrawal came after pushback at a recent rally at Western State Hospital and solid historical data presented to the state.

We'll keep you updated on the results of other job actions!

August 18, 2009

Western State Hospital Members Take Charge Against the Targets on Their Backs

The grassroots effort to take charge against the targets on our backs stopped at Western State Hospital last week. Here’s a report from Federation Public Affairs Assistant Laura Reisdorph:

More than 100 people attended a rally at Western State Hospital Aug. 13 to support employees facing layoffs. WSH managers have announced layoffs in response to the Governor’s directive to agencies to cut 2 percent that will affect about 65 jobs.

Employees, through their local union, Local 793, have offered suggestions of how to cut costs without cutting jobs. So far, management has not responded, nor addressed the union concerning layoffs.

The entire physical therapy clinic and all recreation and athletics specialists (RAS) 1 and 2 are at risk. Recreation and athletics 3 and 4 will be retained, but the cuts mean “more time left idle,” said Gordon Monk (RAS2). “This cut will impact patients’ quality of care directly,” Monk said. “Recreation allows for positive outlets and improves skills - progress is measurable through testing. The direct contact helps reveal the patients’ needs and fears. More idle time will increase the danger to self and others.”

Arthur Wayne Simonson has been employed for 35 years, and is currently safe from the threat of layoff as a RAS3, but he has concerns about the impact to patients. “It’s a safety issue,” Simonson said. “Less hands at the training session, means we can do less for patients.”

“This will leave a single staffer with 15-20 in a group session,” added Dee Foster, a 25-year veteran. As an RAS2, she is directly impacted by the layoff. “Whether it’s arts and crafts, a walk or organized exercise, the direct contact and ability to address individual issues is impaired. I’m afraid the solution will involve TV and DVDs and less interaction.”

Rodney Stanley, a therapy assistant in the Physical Therapy Clinic, said, “closing the clinic won’t remove WSH’s obligation to provide physical therapy. It’s required under Medicaid.” Four employees currently staff the clinic. “A supervisor informed us that they would begin contracting out the work. I’m not sure how that is suppose to save the state money,” Stanley added.

“We need more mental health services, not less,” Sen. Mike Carrell, R-28th Dist., told the crowd.

“The types of decisions made last session were flawed,” Carrell said. “The mental health system is one part of the entire safety system that provides protection to those afflicted and to society. We made deep cuts to criminal justice, including supervision, and those cuts coupled with these additional cuts to mental health impact our safety system. We need more, not less, right now in mental health.”

WFSE/AFSCME President Carol Dotich reported that the new CEO at Western State Hospital refused to engage in discussions with Local 793 officials prior to implementing changes. Repeated efforts to establish communication have resulted in multiple demands to bargain at the facility.

“Today’s rally is about respect, it’s about process, and it’s about safety – for employees and for patients,” Sean Dannen, WFSE/AFSCME council representative for bargaining unit employees at WSH. “Today, we’re collecting, again, employees’ suggestions for cuts that would not result in job losses.”

King5 was not permitted on the grounds to film the employee rally,
but was allowed access in orer to interveiw the CEO post rally.
Watch the raw video here.

Here's the story as reported on

Health Care Reform Made Simple

A lot of angry, over-the-top rhetoric is muddying our discussion of health care reform. To help clear things up, here's a brief summary of President Obama's plan, including how it will stop insurance company abuses and help you--even if you currently have a strong health benefits plan.

Health care reform will stop insurance company abuses:
  • Insurance companies won't be able to refuse to pay a claim or give you coverage because of "pre-existing" conditions.
  • Your out-of-pocket expenses will be capped. No more going broke because of a serious illness or injury.
  • Insurance companies won't be allowed to charge women higher rates than men or drop you if you get sick.
  • Insurance companies will have to cover your children until age 26 instead of dumping them at 19.
Health care reform will hold down rising costs:
  • A public health insurance option will force private insurers to compete and will lower costs for everyone.
  • By requiring companies to pay their fair share, we'll stop them from dumping their health care costs on the rest of us.
Health reform means affordable health care will be there for you, no matter what:
  • If you lose your job, or your kid loses his.
  • If you get sick.
  • When you retire.
Affordable health care will be there for you, no matter what. That means you and your family can't fall through the cracks and won't go broke because of health care bills.

For more information about how health care reform can help you and for answers to many of the common questions about President Obama's plan, check out this new web resource from the White House:

We are so close to real reform, but getting over the finish line will be a battle.
The reality is that health care costs are spiraling out of control, and everyone in America deserves quality and affordable care. Health care reform simply can't wait. We will all be better off with real reform.

8 ways reform provides security and stability to those with or without coverage:
  1. Ends Discrimination for Pre-Existing Conditions: Insurance companies will be prohibited from refusing you coverage because of your medical history.
  2. Ends Exorbitant Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurance companies will have to abide by yearly caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses.
  3. Ends Cost-Sharing for Preventive Care: Insurance companies must fully cover, without charge, regular checkups and tests that help you prevent illness, such as mammograms or eye and foot exams for diabetics.
  4. Ends Dropping of Coverage for Seriously Ill: Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping or watering down insurance coverage for those who become seriously ill.
  5. Ends Gender Discrimination: Insurance companies will be prohibited from charging you more because of your gender.
  6. Ends Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage: Insurance companies will be prevented from placing annual or lifetime caps on the coverage you receive.
  7. Extends Coverage for Young Adults: Children would continue to be eligible for family coverage through the age of 26.
  8. Guarantees Insurance Renewal: Insurance companies will be required to renew any policy as long as the policyholder pays their premium in full. Insurance companies won't be allowed to refuse renewal because someone became sick.
Learn more and get details:

8 common myths about health insurance reform
  1. Reform will stop "rationing" - not increase it: It's a myth that reform will mean a "government takeover" of health care or lead to "rationing." To the contrary, reform will forbid many forms of rationing that are currently being used by insurance companies.
  2. We can't afford reform: It's the status quo we can't afford. It's a myth that reform will bust the budget. To the contrary, the President has identified ways to pay for the vast majority of the up-front costs by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse within existing government health programs; ending big subsidies to insurance companies; and increasing efficiency with such steps as coordinating care and streamlining paperwork. In the long term, reform can help bring down costs that will otherwise lead to a fiscal crisis.
  3. Reform would encourage "euthanasia": It does not. It's a malicious myth that reform would encourage or even require euthanasia for seniors. For seniors who want to consult with their family and physicians about end-of life decisions, reform will help to cover these voluntary, private consultations for those who want help with these personal and difficult family decisions.
  4. Vets' health care is safe and sound: It's a myth that health insurance reform will affect veterans' access to the care they get now. To the contrary, the President's budget significantly expands coverage under the VA, extending care to 500,000 more veterans who were previously excluded. The VA Healthcare system will continue to be available for all eligible veterans.
  5. Reform will benefit small business - not burden it: It's a myth that health insurance reform will hurt small businesses. To the contrary, reform will ease the burdens on small businesses, provide tax credits to help them pay for employee coverage and help level the playing field with big firms who pay much less to cover their employees on average.
  6. Your Medicare is safe, and stronger with reform: It's myth that Health Insurance Reform would be financed by cutting Medicare benefits. To the contrary, reform will improve the long-term financial health of Medicare, ensure better coordination, eliminate waste and unnecessary subsidies to insurance companies, and help to close the Medicare "doughnut" hole to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors.
  7. You can keep your own insurance: It's myth that reform will force you out of your current insurance plan or force you to change doctors. To the contrary, reform will expand your choices, not eliminate them.
  8. No, government will not do anything with your bank account: It is an absurd myth that government will be in charge of your bank accounts. Health insurance reform will simplify administration, making it easier and more convenient for you to pay bills in a method that you choose. Just like paying a phone bill or a utility bill, you can pay by traditional check, or by a direct electronic payment. And forms will be standardized so they will be easier to understand. The choice is up to you - and the same rules of privacy will apply as they do for all other electronic payments that people make.

    Learn more and get details:
8 Reasons We Need Health Insurance Reform Now

  1. Coverage Denied to Millions: A recent national survey estimated that 12.6 million non-elderly adults - 36 percent of those who tried to purchase health insurance directly from an insurance company in the individual insurance market - were in fact discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition in the previous three years or dropped from coverage when they became seriously ill. Learn more here.
  2. Less Care for More Costs: With each passing year, Americans are paying more for health care coverage. Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have nearly doubled since 2000, a rate three times faster than wages. In 2008, the average premium for a family plan purchased through an employer was $12,680, nearly the annual earnings of a full-time minimum wage job. Americans pay more than ever for health insurance, but get less coverage. Learn more here.
  3. Roadblocks to Care for Women: Women's reproductive health requires more regular contact with health care providers, including yearly pap smears, mammograms, and obstetric care. Women are also more likely to report fair or poor health than men (9.5% versus 9.0%). While rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure are similar to men, women are twice as likely to suffer from headaches and are more likely to experience joint, back or neck pain. These chronic conditions often require regular and frequent treatment and follow-up care. Learn more here.
  4. Hard Times in the Heartland: Throughout rural America, there are nearly 50 million people who face challenges in accessing health care. The past several decades have consistently shown higher rates of poverty, mortality, uninsurance, and limited access to a primary health care provider in rural areas. With the recent economic downturn, there is potential for an increase in many of the health disparities and access concerns that are already elevated in rural communities. Learn more here.
  5. Small Businesses Struggle to Provide Health Coverage: Nearly one-third of the uninsured - 13 million people - are employees of firms with less than 100 workers. From 2000 to 2007, the proportion of non-elderly Americans covered by employer-based health insurance fell from 66% to 61%. Much of this decline stems from small business. The percentage of small businesses offering coverage dropped from 68% to 59%, while large firms held stable at 99%. About a third of such workers in firms with fewer than 50 employees obtain insurance through a spouse. Learn more here.
  6. The Tragedies are Personal: Half of all personal bankruptcies are at least partly the result of medical expenses. The typical elderly couple may have to save nearly $300,000 to pay for health costs not covered by Medicare alone. Learn more here. :
  7. Diminishing Access to Care: From 2000 to 2007, the proportion of non-elderly Americans covered by employer-based health insurance fell from 66% to 61%. An estimated 87 million people - one in every three Americans under the age of 65 - were uninsured at some point in 2007 and 2008. More than 80% of the uninsured are in working families. Learn more here.
  8. The Trends are Troubling: Without reform, health care costs will continue to skyrocket unabated, putting unbearable strain on families, businesses, and state and federal government budgets. Perhaps the most visible sign of the need for health care reform is the 46 million Americans currently without health insurance - projections suggest that this number will rise to about 72 million in 2040 in the absence of reform. Learn more here.

August 11, 2009

Job actions heating up as members take charge against the targets on their backs; major job action Thursday at Western State Hospital

After the treatment state employees got from the Legislature this year, WFSE/AFSCME members are pushing back against senseless cuts and gutless politicians.
  • This week, members at Western State Hospital in Lakewood hold a major job action Thursday to push back against ward closures and the proposed layoff of at least 65 members-layoffs that have not been discussed with the union. A demand to bargain has been filed, but this kind of quasi-after-the-fact notification is unacceptable.

    The Western State Hospital job action is this Thursday, Aug. 13, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m., at the hospital campus, 9601 Steilacoom Blvd. S.W. in Lakewood (south of Tacoma). If you're able to attend, you'd be striking a blow against any such moves anywhere we have members. An injury to one is an injury to all.
  • Last Thursday, Aug. 6, Fircrest School Local 341 in Shoreline held a job action to push back against a legislatively mandated study calling for the elimination of 250 beds in all of the residential habilitation centers. Fircrest has a high number of short-term, respite clients--but not the proportionate funding. Local 341 members fear heavy cuts there. The Local 341 members signed petitions, called legislators and rallied at the facility's entrance. Their message to the consultants doing the study: The cuts in RHCs, juvenile rehabilitation, Corrections and elsewhere aren't necessary.
  • A steering committee of Child Welfare Services members meets this Saturday to set up their watchdog role of a state panel created by the Legislature to set up two pilot privatization projects over the next six years.
  • And the push back has spilled over into members' legislative and political action focus.
The Federation Executive Board voted to withhold all endorsements in the upcoming, Aug. 18 primary election for three state House seats up for election.

That's because the union has suspended its normal endorsements process for the rest of 2009.

The union is also withholding all contributions to candidates for the Legislature and governor until after the 2010 session. No money will go to parties or political committees, either.

"We have supported candidates in the past who have abandoned us when things got tough, and so we will suspend contributions until our members can agree on which politicians truly support our members," said Dennis Eagle, WFSE/AFSCME's director of legislative and political action.

The union will restructure its political program to better weed out candidates who give superficial support from those who take a stand for state employees and stick to it.

"Our goal is to make it harder for politicians to win our support, and to also ensure that our support, when granted, is truly meaningful," Eagle said.

To gather information and ideas to reinvent the union's political program, WFSE/AFSCME will hold a series of three workshops this year. The goal is to strengthen members' voices.

The WFSE/AFSCME Statewide Executive Board adopted all these changes July 18.

The legislative shafting wasn't limited just to WFSE/AFSCME members. The rest of labor is changing the way it does business when it comes to endorsements and contributions.

The governor and legislative leaders killed the Worker Privacy Act after the Boeing Company objected.

The Washington State Labor Council has formed a new political action committee called DIME ("Don't Invest in More Excuses"). It's meant to better coordinate which candidates truly deserve Labor's support. WFSE/AFSCME has contributed to DIME.

Keep the pressure on for health care reform

- Health care. The Legislature cut funding for your health care, forcing the Public Employees Benefits Board to raise most premiums, raise or institute deductibles and raise office visit co-pays.

The solution is national health care reform, which comes up for critical action in the U.S. Congress in September. For information and calls to action, log onto > Action Center.

A number of town hall meetings are scheduled in coming weeks. While Congress is home on vacation, make sure they hear from you about health care reform. Attend an event in your area with your Members of Congress to show that we need health care reform and we need it now. It would be very good to counter the anti-health care reform rhetoric at these Town Halls. To see the schedule in your area and to download resources you can use, go to > Action Center.

You've seen the news reports showing the shouting matches at these town hall meetings, some from legitimate frustration, but a lot orchestrated by big business and the big insurance companies. You need to make your voice heard so the call for affordable health insurance isn't drowned out by the greed of the insurance companies.

One important town hall meeting is set this Thursday in Longview.

Senator Murray, Senator Cantwell and Representative Baird are scheduled to be in Longview on Thursday to speak on local issues. This was not scheduled as a health care event, but opponents of health care reform are targeting this meeting as a platform for their message.

We need AFSCME health care reform ADVOCATES in the house. Please try to attend!
Mount St. Helens Citizen Advisory Committee Update
Thursday, August 13, 2009 / 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Cowlitz County Expo Center, Loowit Meeting Room, 1900 7th Ave., Longview


August 4, 2009

Here's one economic stimulus package you may not have thought about!

In these tough economic times, we can’t overlook a 220-year-old program that now determines $300 billion in federal spending for critical community services that keep and create thousands of jobs.

Believe it or not, it’s the United States Census.

Next year, 2010, is a census year. AFSCME is encouraging members to take part in the census – and spread the word to our neighbors.

Getting an accurate count of the population is vital – economically and politically. The census determines how much federal money comes to our state. It also determines how many members of Congress we have.

Census data also guides local decision-makers on where to build new roads, hospitals, child-care and senior citizen centers, schools and more. Businesses use census data to locate supermarkets, new housing and other facilities.

But this year’s census questionnaire has only 10 questions and will take only about 10 minutes to complete. You’ll get a copy in the mail in March 2010. Census workers will visit households that do not return questionnaires. The gathering of census information should wrap up by April.

AFSCME will provide more information you can use on the census in coming months. For more information, log onto