Labor groups to file health care initiative to raise wages, protect patients

HOPE Worldwide volunteer Dr. Cornelia Haner, left, and Capt. William Brunner, right, perform surgery together as a informational exchange aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) during Pacific Partnership 2012. Photo by Kristopher Radder | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

A labor union representing California health care workers will file a proposed ballot measure on Monday that will raise employee wages, set new cleanliness standards aimed at fighting infections in hospitals, ban “surprise billing” and bar insurance companies in Arizona from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. 

Arizonans Fed Up With Failing Healthcare, a political action committee formed by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, will unveil its initiative at a press conference on Monday. The union represents health care workers in California.

Morgan Tucker, a spokeswoman for the committee, said the initiative will have four main provisions.

It will raise the minimum wage for direct care workers in hospitals by 20 percent over four years. Beginning in 2021, the minimum wage for those workers will increase by 5 percent per year for four years. Arizona’s minimum wage is currently set at $11 per hour, and will rise to $12 next year. Flagstaff has a higher minimum wage than the rest of the state, which will rise to $15.50 in 2022.

The initiative will enshrine into state law protections for people with pre-existing conditions. It would ban insurers from refusing to insure people or charging them more than other patients based on pre-existing conditions. Tucker said the protections will go further than those in the Affordable Care Act by applying them to short-term health care plans, known as “junk plans.”

Republican officials in 20 states, including Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, are challenging the Affordable Care Act in federal court, arguing that the law’s provision requiring people to have health insurance is unconstitutional. A federal judge in Texas ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in December. If the lawsuit strikes down the Affordable Care Act — it’s possible that the mandate could be struck down while leaving other parts of the law intact – the proposed ballot measure could provide a backstop that would continue protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

Tucker said the initiative will take aim at surprising billing in health care. She said the ballot measure will ensure that patients can only be charged “typical in-network cost sharing,” even when they see providers who are outside of their insurance networks. The proposal would require insurers to compensate out-of-network providers that treat their enrollees in emergencies either the insurer’s median in-network rate or 125 percent of the Medicare rate for that service, whichever is higher.

The initiative will also impose new cleanliness requirements aimed at preventing infections in hospitals. Details of that provision are still unclear.

SEIU-UHW West will provide funding for the campaign, though Tucker said there will be multiple other funding sources, as well. 

She did not say why a labor union that doesn’t represent health care workers in Arizona is spending money to pass a ballot measure here.

This isn’t SEIU-UHW West’s first attempt to get an initiative on the Arizona ballot. In 2016, the union collected more than 281,000 signatures to refer a measure to the ballot capping salaries for hospital executives. The measure was spillover from a California labor battle between the union and the California Hospital Association. But the campaign pulled the plug on the initiative after the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and other opponents challenged the validity of some of the initiative’s signatures. 

Arizonans Fed Up with Failing Healthcare’s press conference will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Ability360 Sport and Fitness Center at 5031 E. Washington St. in Phoenix.

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