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Donna Perry: Heated Days for Health Care and Pay Raises

Thursday, July 19, 2012


As the mercury soars to unhealthy levels in recent days, heated rhetoric about health care and declarations about refusing pay raises are coinciding this week. On the health care battlefront, this currentskirmishis not directly related to the recent passage of the federal health care overhaul bill, but it’s a hot, loud, and very public argument just the same. Rhode Island’s long running health insurer monopoly, better known as Blue Cross/Blue Shield of RI, seems to be up against a foe willing to wage an aggressive debate about the company’s business practices.

The stakes have been rising in recent weeks as the July 25th deadline approaches for the completion of the sale of Landmark Medical Center to Massachusetts based Steward Health Care System. Though the central conflict appears to revolve around the intention by Blue Cross to drop Landmark patients from its network and ongoing disputes about rates of reimbursement, the Steward campaign against Blue Crossmay in fact be about a whole lot more. The print and broadcast ad campaign that’s now underway, and is backed by Landmark Hospital officials and the health professionals union, seems aimed at causing significant cracks in the monopoly shield the insurer has long held over the state’s hospitals and health care delivery system.

It’s no secret that Steward, with a successful track record in our neighbor to the north, may have set its sights on other struggling community hospitals in the state once its purchase of Woonsocket’s Landmark is completed. This Bay State hospital group owner is an aggressive player thatis clearly not afraid to usein your face public relations tactics to call Blue Cross out.

Landmark financially collapsed in 2008, and Steward’s pr campaign claims Blue Crossset out to ruin it since then, trying to force a permanent closure which could ultimately drive area patients to other hospitals that are more favored by Blue Cross. For the moment, it’s unclear if—and how--the parties may resolve their differences with the clock ticking on the sale agreement deadline. But one thing is clear: a new aggressive player seems intent on challenging the Blue Cross state dominance once and for all and that could ultimately be good news for Rhode Islanders.

Walking Away from a Pay Raise

Compensation for state lawmakers, meanwhile, is back in the headlines more for politicians rejecting a pay raise, not taking it. As incumbents for re-election to the General Assembly face off against challengers this campaign season, a growing number, but certainly far from the majority, seem acutely aware that taking a pay increase, even at a modest spike up of 3.2%, for a public service job at a time when thousands of public employees have lost COLA’s and tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders remain out of work with no pay, may not be a great idea.

The taxpayer advocacy organization RISC, RI statewide Coalition, is keeping a running tab on which reps and senators are skipping the pay raise (23 at last count) and which are not. Check out http://www.statewidecoalition.com and we will keep you informed of who is walking away from the added pay and who is walking the district but still taking it.

When they knock on your door this campaign summer, be sure to ask.

Donna Perry is Executive Director of the RI Statewide Coalition (RISC)



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