Wednesday, June 28, 2017 This Week's Paper

Healthcare workers rally for insurance benefits

// Community Health Care employees authorize two-day strike at Hilltop clinic.

Nearly 100 public service union members rallied July 28 in Tacoma to protest health insurance premium hikes for Pierce County Community Health Care clinic employees.

Union members argued that increases in health insurance premiums for clinic workers have become unaffordable. The workers planned a two-day strike Aug. 9-10 to protest the increases.

The protest comes in the wake of the agency’s plans to unveil its newest clinic on Hilltop this summer. The $23 million clinic will be the agency’s largest and will feature medical, dental and pharmacy services.

For the past 14 months, the healthcare workers and Community Health Care have been negotiating a contract. Community Health Care presented its contract terms, including increases in healthcare premiums for workers, which advocates argue will leave many workers without insurance for their families.

“For a lot of workers, in the long term, these terms are going to put healthcare out of reach,” State Representative Tami Green said.

Green, who is also president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1199NW, said she and other lawmakers worked hard to secure $1.5 million in funding to help build the Hilltop clinic.

“(This funding) is at the heels of takeaways at the bargaining table,” she said.

Fellow State Representative Laurie Jinkins stressed the larger issue of keeping healthcare professionals of color working in highly diverse neighborhoods. She said the pressure of unaffordable health insurance costs, coupled with lower than average wages, could threaten that balance.

“These healthcare professionals don’t do these jobs to make a million dollars. They do it because they love their patients,” Jinkins said.

“We’ve spent money at the state level trying to recruit more people of color to these clinics. These healthcare increases are hard to hear about.”

Following the rally, Community Health Care workers marched through the streets to the site of the new clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Lorie Johnson was one of many healthcare workers who came out to voice her concerns about the insurance increase.

Johnson said she went back to work at Community Health Care as a medical billing associate two years ago. Her husband lost his plumbing job six months ago, and she said the family has been struggling to keep up with the bills.

“I’m not making the big bucks,” she said. “Most of us do this because we care about the community and believe in CHC’s mission statement.”

Johnson said her current health insurance premiums are so high she cannot afford to keep her 22-year-old son insured. She is afraid if premiums continue to increase, her husband and 5-year-old son could be next.

“It’s hard when you have a kid and have a single income,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to go back to public assistance. It’s scary going backward.”

Fellow clinic worker Ashley Blood said the Hilltop launch should be a time for celebration. “Instead, Community Health Care has chosen this time to take away healthcare from workers, and it’s our families and children who are paying the price,” Blood said. “We treat the most underserved and uninsured patients in Tacoma, and now it will be us.”