Beware of unions offering gifts: Patients are their collateral damage

By now, we are used to seeing our nation’s unions do everything that they can to put their interests ahead of the industries that they are trying to undercut. The most storied example is how the unions put their own agendas ahead of the auto companies and the car buying public, strong-arming what were once some of the nation’s prominent companies into unrealistic demands that ultimately led to their downfall.

If you could imagine, currently we are seeing a new level of crass self-interest. Today, the unions are putting themselves ahead of the very patients—some of the sickest and poorest citizens—that they say they want to help. What’s more, they’ve recruited new partners into the mix. Partners who will surprise us all.

For more than a year, the California branch of the Service Employees International Union, a union that has been involved in many questionable activities, has led an aggressive campaign to unionize the dialysis industry. SEIU is pursuing two efforts to force its agenda: first they are applying more pressure on dialysis providers and second they are threatening their providers’ finances. Using these two tactics, SEIU knows that the chances that the industry will cave to their unrealistic demands will increase.

SEIU’s first tactic is a statewide ballot initiative in California that will cap provider revenues at 15 percent above the amount that they spend on patient care—an amount that excludes many of the administrative costs of running a clinic. The second effort attempts to prevent dialysis and kidney transplant patients from using charitable donations to pay for their health insurance premiums. Nearly 4,000 low-income patients with kidney failure in California might lose access to their health insurance—and possibly even their clinics—if SEIU’s bill (Senate Bill 1156) is signed into law.

As part of its scorched-earth campaign and win-at-all-costs mentality, SEIU worked with its legislative enablers to introduce SB 1156 and get it passed into the California State Senate in May. Knowing that a bill that harmed patients and limited the role of a private charity would be controversial, SEIU found common ground with the state’s largest health insurers to oppose charitable premium assistance and effectively limit opposition to the bill.

What would cause the insurers to join forces with a union? Simple. The insurers found that they are unable to use their size and financial advantage to force the providers into accepting lower reimbursement rates for patients with private insurance. Sensing an opportunity in labor-friendly California, the insurers created common cause with the unions to attack the dialysis providers through SB 1156.

And SEIU’s reward to insurers for such cozy collaboration? If approved, the bill will let insurers charge whatever premiums they want while reimbursing dialysis providers at Medicare rates—which are much lower than private insurance rates—for any patient who receives charitable premium assistance.

When individuals with kidney disease deteriorate to the point that their kidneys can no longer function, they must clean their blood regularly using a dialysis machine. By and large, patients who utilize the clinics that SEIU are trying to unionize spend three to four hours a day, three times per week hooked to a dialysis machine. Although it keeps patients alive, dialysis is both physically exhausting and financially draining. As a result, it leaves most patients unable to work and dependent on saved resources, friends, family members and government programs.