Wednesday, February 06, 2008

$75 million? Thanks, but I'd rather not donate.

A recent article about an election-year campaign by the SEIU prompted me to go through my notes from a meeting almost two years ago. The scene was at Boston's Parker House Hotel, on May 23, 2006, where Senator Kennedy had invited all of the Boston area hospital CEOs to meet with Dennis Rivera and several other members of the SEIU leadership. I haven't written about this before because I wasn't sure of whether the contents of the meeting were supposed to be public, but now that the SEIU has said the same things publicly, I am comfortable reporting them.

At the meeting, Mr. Rivera said that the SEIU needed $100 million to educate the American public and run a national campaign on the patient access and universal coverage issue. He explained that the union did not have that large sum of money and therefore needed it from the hospitals. He also said quite clearly that there would be an effort to elect Democratic candidates and defeat Republican candidates.

The announcement this week reiterates and confirms his remarks. The dollar amount is $75 million instead of $100 million, but perhaps it was just a rounding error two years ago -- or maybe they have already spent a portion of the difference between the two numbers. And sure enough, during the Presidential campaign and in other local and gubernatorial races, the SEIU has likewise supported Democratic candidates who agree with its point of view.

All this is legal and above-board, so I am not raising that issue. Indeed, you and I may personally agree with some or all of these political aims. However, at a time when Massachusetts -- with the closest thing to a universal access law -- is trying to control the growth of health care expenses, I am hard-pressed to see why hospitals, insurers, and consumers in Massachusetts should support a union effort to add an additional tax on our health care system and its workers to provide dollars to support a national political agenda and support for particular candidates. I am not as familiar with other states, and I wonder if the same concerns might arise there.

Of course, if you happened to disagree with the SEIU's political goals, you might have an additional reason to be concerned about this use of funds from the health care delivery system. But, even if you agree completely with the union's objectives, do you support this means of raising revenue?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just curious. How voluntary does it feel when Sen. Kennedy "invites" you to a meeting?

Paul Levy said...

Truthfully, I would never miss a chance to be with Senator Kennedy, just because I admire him so much and always learn something from being with him. I consider him to be one of America's greatest Senators.

Equally truthfully, even if I did not feel that way, I would always try to respond positively to any Senator's invitation out of respect for the position he or she holds.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that if it was important to union members, they could donate $75 each and not have to ask anyone for sponsor their agenda...

Oh wait, that would require it being a union member sponsored initive.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to hear anyone say how this "universal coverage" will be paid for.

My health insurance this year (BC/BS) is going up 47% from $428/mo to $631/mo. It's an HMO plan. Managed care. Significant co-pays.

I can't even afford my own policy, how am I supposed to pay for someone else's, too?

And it doesn't help that BIDMC can't get their billing right and submits multiple bills to the insurance co and stiffs me with $150 for each one leaving me to miss work trying to fix it.

Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

The SEIU- It's almost enough to make me want to vote as a Republican!

EB said...

A basic question here: What provisions would exist to ensure that, if donated, those monies would be spent towards the mentioned activities and not go into the "slush fund". You could find that the donation dollars are those that fund the picket signs outside your door!

Anonymous said...

Personally I am all for getting Dems elected. They can ask--you don't have to give.

Paul Levy said...

Actually, if you have the union representing workers in your organization, you do have to give. The funds are taken out of the union treasury that comes in great measure from the mandatory union dues that are included in the payroll from the hospital.

independent_voter said...

Wow, I'm not sure I like this at all. Does the SEIU disclose this to workers when it is conducting a membership campaign? I'm guessing not. And, what happens if I am an employee who does not want a union, but one is voted in? If I supported a different candidate or party, how much of a voice would I have in how monies (that I'd be contributing dues towards, as I guess I wouldn't have a choice) are used?

Paul Levy said...

Dear I_V,

Under federal law, once a union is certified for a particular category of workers in a hospital or other corporation, the union becomes the exclusive bargaining agent for all of those workers, even those who voted "no". All those workers are also required to pay the union dues or a comparable fee that goes to the union.

shadowfax said...

The SEIU is an interesting bird. They are currently suing our hospital through an astroturf organization in an attempt to block our facility's permits/license for a new hospital. The reason they are doing so is because they want our parent organization (25 hospitals) to be exclusively SEIU shops. We are just about 100% union, but not affiliated with the SEIU.

So it's hard to feel warm & fuzzy about them; pretty hardball tactics.

But they are reliable democratic supporters, which is nice to have in this day and age. So I have mixed feelings about them.

On the other topic, there are two big issues in health policy which have to be addressed: cost containment and universal access. Unfortunately the solutions for each appear to be diametrically opposed. Covering the uninsured and paying primary care doctors a market-competitive salary (relative to specialists) will be expensive. Cost containment, especially if ill-designed, may well reduce access to care if it negatively impacts the ability to profitably provide health care services.

A lot of people conflate the two crises, trying to maintain that universal access can somehow control costs, or that cutting payments will free up more dollars for the uninsured. I think these problems need to be de-linked and addressed separately. My bias is to improve access first, due to the human costs of being uninsured, with reducing the rate of increase in expense as a second priority.

But that's just me.

Thanks for dropping by Movin' Meat.

Anonymous said...

Shadowfax;

If the Mafia were reliable Democratic supporters, would that cause you to have "mixed feelings" about them too?

shadowfax said...

If I were a bootlegger, I might.

But the SEIU ain't the mafia. They do a lot of good for their members and the labor movement in general. It's a bogus and dishonest comparison.

I have mixed feeling primarily b/c I'm on the other side of the table from them on this issue and also b/c they play rough. So, they're tough competitors, but we have some major and important areas of agreement.

Paul Levy said...

Well put, shadowfax. Anon used a poor choice of words.

independent_voter said...

Shadowfax, the SEIU supports democratic candidates, but then expects in return that the candidates will support union-friendly policies. So, this support hardly comes with no strings attached, particularly given the enormous figures involved. Witness what's been happening with Governor Patrick's election, and his quick passage of bills that create exceedingly favorable conditions for the same union to grow its membership. A vicious circle indeed. I guess that's always been one of the things that's a little sad about politics anyplace. Lots of interests play the same game. However, regardless of an organization's support for what one might consider a good party or cause for the country, it doesn't excuse that organization's history of despicable conduct.

Anonymous said...

I am anon 3:35. Independent_voter said what I was trying to say, only much better. Also, I am not a Democrat (Independent; don't like either of 'em), so it amused me that shadowfax considered that a mitigating factor for the union. I was not equating the union with the Mafia - the perils of written communication....

Paul Levy said...

Thanks for clarifying!

rskirk55 said...

Just another example of how unions in general and SEIU in particular are completely extraneous and out of step in the 21st century. Their concern is lining their own pockets any way they can. My autistic son cannot get access to the healthcare and services he needs here in Kentucky, but his union gets their $25 out of each small check he gets weekly working 15 hours at the grocery. He does not work enough hours to qualify for health insurance and his union representative said full time jobs are not available for "his kind". He and I had a discussion about just what "kind" I think he is. Steve Kirk blogs on healthcare at www.theperfectsense.com.