While some unions want to form their own managed-care plans, some managed-care plans want to form their own unions, sort of.
Last week, 2,000 physicians on New York's Long Island agreed to join the Office and Professional Employees International Union, a New York-based national organization that represents office, technical and professional workers.
The same physicians own and operate MDNY, a Melville, N.Y.-based managed-care plan serving 20,000 people on Long Island.
Just days before MDNY's announcement, the Philadelphia County Medical Society revealed its intent to explore the formation of a union.
After meeting with an AFL-CIO representative, "the general consensus was we must do something to maintain control of our patients," said Raymond Lodise, M.D., president of the 3,600-member medical society.
Ever since announcing the unionization effort, Lodise has been fielding phone calls from physicians locally and nationally.
The OPEIU, one of 75 affiliated unions of the AFL-CIO, was the group Lodise approached. The 140,000-member union is actively recruiting physicians around the country.
"We're suddenly becoming the white coat union," said Jay Porcaro, the OPEIU's director of organization. "I think the receptivity for this movement is at a fever pitch."
At a press conference last week, MDNY and OPEIU leaders said the "partnership" was driven by "a common concern" about how healthcare is delivered today and a desire to strengthen physicians' voice in shaping the healthcare system.
This isn't about going on strike, said Richard A. Radoccia, MDNY's chief executive officer. "We're taking a very pro-competitive stance," he said. "The union can do things in a political landscape that we really can't do."
Added Porcaro: "This is one of several ways to address what's happening in managed care."
Unlike Local 1199 of the National Health and Human Services Employees Union, OPEIU leaders denied any interest in getting into the business of managed-care delivery (See related story, below). But it does give the union a base for expanding its physician representation and another union-friendly managed-care option to recommend to its members.
In turn, MDNY gets the powerful backing of the AFL-CIO. If there is any "economic tainting to our motive," it's to administer better patient care, said Robert Sarnataro, M.D., an MDNY physician.