A Seat at the Table

One of the tragic revelations laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic is the stark difference in our communities’ health care, particularly between the five private hospital systems operating in New York City and our public hospitals under Health+Hospitals.

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido

The divide between public hospitals and private health care has reached an abyss as large as that between the 99% and the 1%. The principal private hospital networks hide behind a veil of secrecy that violates federal law when it comes to setting pricing and reimbursement rates – all of which are supposed to be transparent. The rates they agree on behind closed doors have never been disclosed to unions or the hundreds of thousands of workers we represent and their families.

This would not happen if unions had a seat at the rate-setting table, which is why we are now calling hospital leadership to task.

Five of the city’s largest unions, including DC 37, joined together in a coalition to demand a fair shake in pricing and to be included in the process of setting hospital reimbursement rates. A seat at the table is our right. We pay for these services and deserve a strong voice in the process.

These five hospitals have been price gouging for years to the tune of more than 300% above Medicare rates and three times what H+H charges for the same services. By increasing costs while getting massive reimbursements from the federal government, these for-profit health systems have needlessly inflated health care costs to the breaking point for New York City’s working families.

Private hospitals refuse to care for the homeless, poor, and uninsured – only taking the minimum number required by law, while dumping the remainder of these patients on our city’s public hospitals. Yet, these same hospitals are more than happy to accept billions in funding from the federal government – tax dollars that come from all hard-working Americans.

The worst is how these private hospital systems charge union health funds for services to members. A recent report by the 32BJ SEIU Health Fund showed that for certain services, their health fund paid far more at private hospitals than it did at public hospitals – in some cases nine times the Medicare rate. Unacceptable? Yes. Inexcusable? Most definitely.

This isn’t just about 32BJ, however. Our own union’s Health and Security Fund is also gouged by the privates, as are other city union health funds that are being suffocated by exorbitantly high costs. If we don’t work together to stop the strangulation hold by laying out a seat-at-the-table ultimatum, then we have no one to blame but ourselves. Organized labor has the power of numbers in our corner.

Higher charges do not equate to higher quality health care. That’s the mindset of the 1%.

As part of the Labor Strong Coalition, we joined with our four partner unions and tried to deliver more than 5,000 petitions to New York-Presbyterian Hospital management calling on them to give us a seat at the table. We brought hard-working brothers and sisters with us to politely and respectfully hand deliver these petitions to President and CEO Steven Corwin.

Not only did he refuse to even greet the workers or come outside and speak with us as union leaders, he actually had hospital security escort them out of the hospital! Would this have happened if 5,000 of the city’s 1% had a complaint? Would they have been escorted out and told to leave?

It’s amazing how the great divide rears its ugly head once again. We are ready to act, and we shall.

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