Union calls for action on Medicaid rates, workforce training and job protection within payment reform legislation

BOSTON – The largest healthcare union in Massachusetts is about to take the issue of healthcare payment reform public with a series of mobilizations, community forums, a massive advertising blitz, caregiver workshops, and other actions in a new statewide campaign slated to launch on Wednesday, April 6. The campaign aims to elevate the voices of all healthcare workers in the ongoing debate around quality and cost control reforms, while also raising awareness of the key role hospital service workers play in overall healthcare delivery. 1199SEIU members are calling it the “Voices of Quality Care” campaign.

The campaign kicks off Wednesday with a TV ad featuring the kind of service and technical workers who union members say are often overlooked as part of the care delivery team. The ad promotes a new website that both explains 1199SEIU’s take on payment reform, and encourages caregivers to join the union.

“Our basic message is that patients and caregivers need more than a voice in these upcoming reforms – they need a strong voice,” said John Herr, a respiratory therapist at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton. “We can’t let the conversation be dominated by insurance executives and regulators, so we’re bringing our perspective as frontline caregivers straight to the public.”

Through the campaign, workers hope to shape the next phase of healthcare reform and raise the overall profile of hospital service workers as legislators debate a bill that will profoundly affect healthcare jobs – currently the state’s largest employment category. 1199SEIU caregivers say stabilizing Medicaid rates and incentivizing workforce training should be key areas of focus in the cost control debate.

1199SEIU members are supportive of legislative efforts to increase healthcare quality while reducing costs. However, they say that in order to succeed, the legislation must address the low Medicaid reimbursement rates to hospitals.

Workers say inadequate Medicaid reimbursement rates for ‘safety net’ and community hospitals create a ‘cost-shifting’ problem that forces hospitals to charge private insurers and consumers more to make up the difference. They are concerned that the current payment reform proposal does not address this serious cost-driving issue.

1199SEIU members also say further training and an increased role for frontline caregivers could help reduce long-term costs by improving patient care coordination and reducing errors. Caregivers say workforce training will also be needed to help incumbent healthcare workers transition from some of the old healthcare model jobs to the healthcare jobs of the future that will be spurred by these reforms.

“Medicaid stabilization and workforce training are going to be key factors in this effort to improve quality and reduce costs,” said 1199SEIU Executive Vice President Veronica Turner, “We’re raising these issues now to ensure the best possible transition for both workers and patients to a more efficient, cost-effective system that also protects quality care and jobs.”

Healthcare workers expect the Voices of Quality Care campaign to last beyond the legislative debate on payment reform, since they aim to ensure patient, consumer, and caregiver interests are protected during the implementation phase of any final legislation.

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