Originally created 08/24/04

Workers at HMOs strike over their own health benefits



SEATTLE -- About 1,700 nurses and other health care workers began a five-day strike Monday against Group Health Cooperative - one of the nation's oldest HMOs - over the cost of their own health benefits.

Nurses, medical assistants, therapists and others represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1199 began striking at 18 clinics in western Washington. The strike is scheduled to end Friday at midnight.

The two sides failed to reach a compromise last week.

Group Health, a nonprofit health maintenance organization begun in 1947, says it needs its employees to pay more for health benefits to save money and prevent the HMO from passing on costs to members in the form of premium hikes.

Union workers now get benefits with no premiums or deductibles and $5 copays for office visits and prescriptions.

They say they are willing to contribute more, but that Group Health's proposal goes too far. It includes increasing co-payments to $15, instituting deductibles and charging premiums on a sliding scale.