The nation's largest state labor federation is initiating discussions with its 3,300 union affiliates that could lead to the creation of an influential new healthcare purchasing organization.
The New York State AFL-CIO is convening a members-only meeting this week to discuss collective healthcare purchasing initiatives. At least 30 people are expected to attend the kickoff roundtable session, which will be chaired by Edward J. Cleary, president of the federation, whose affiliates represent 2.5 million union members throughout the state.
There was no early reaction from the state's hospital industry to the proposal. The Healthcare Association of New York State had no comment, and executives of the Greater New York Hospital Association could not be reached for comment.
In a letter to affiliates, Cleary said the meeting's purpose is to address the challenges faced by unions in securing and providing health benefits and health services to members. "The New York State AFL-CIO strongly believes that we must act together NOW in order to shape future legislation and utilize the collective purchasing power of labor in securing quality medical care at reasonable rates," he wrote.
"There's been widespread support by a number of the larger affiliates" for such a meeting, added New York State AFL-CIO spokesman Mario Cilento. For example, Local 1199 of the National Health and Human Services Employees Union, New York's largest healthcare labor union, is expected to participate.
Asked whether the confab could lead to the creation of an HMO or some other healthcare purchasing vehicle, Cilento said it's part of what will be discussed.
One impetus for the Dec. 3 meeting is the end of state regulation of hospital impatient rates on Dec. 31. A new negotiated system, which also involves new surcharges and assessments, will go into effect Jan. 1. Some purchasers and payers remain wary about how the new system will shake out. They realize they may secure better deals by aligning with one another.
Cleary said the meeting will provide a framework for guiding efforts of the federation's healthcare committee. Specifically, those efforts include the development of a preferred provider network of hospitals who will agree to "a fair pricing structure" and employ union workers in their facilities and for facility construction, modernization and maintenance. The committee also intends to explore how it may flex its collective purchasing clout in other areas, such as with physicians, laboratories and prescription drugs.
Finally, Cleary said he hopes to initiate a joint effort with legislators, providers and advocates for the uninsured to bring about universal healthcare coverage in the state.