In an ironic twist, 1,700 employees of Group Health Cooperative, Seattle, began a five-day strike against the consumer-governed HMO over the cost of their health benefits. Nurses, medical assistants, therapists and other healthcare workers represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 1199 began striking at 18 Group Health clinics in western Washington after the two sides failed to reach a compromise last week. Eastside Hospital, the cooperative's only general hospital, was not affected.
Group Health, one of the nation's oldest not-for-profit HMOs, has said it needs employees to pay more for health benefits to save money and avert greater premium increases for members. The company has proposed raising copayments to $15 and imposing a deductible and a monthly premium based on each employee's pay. Union workers now have a $5 copayment for office visits and prescriptions but no premium or deductible. They have said they are willing to contribute more for their healthcare benefits but not as much as Group Health is seeking, and they argue that some employees could not afford coverage under the HMO's proposal. -- by Laura B. Benko