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Pro: Nurses back Group Health sale to Kaiser Permanente

By Diane Sosne
Special to The Times

NURSES and health-care workers are called to care for our patients and our community. As the more than 2,000 nurses and health-care workers at Group Health, we value Group Health’s comprehensive, health-oriented approach, focused on the best quality and value in care.

That’s why when we heard about the proposed Kaiser Permanente acquisition, we carefully evaluated what it would mean for our patients, our community and good health-care jobs. After a full discussion, we urge our fellow Group Health consumers to vote yes on the acquisition.

Group Health has played a unique role in our Puget Sound health-care landscape. Its dedication to value, not profit, has allowed us to create an exemplary care delivery model. We have answered to our consumers — not shareholders nor corporate board rooms — and have been able to innovate around how we deliver care to meet each patient’s needs. We love the work we do.

Yet, in our increasingly consolidated health-care market, it’s tough for our scale and model of care delivery to get ahead. The increasing costs of technology and expansion in health care favor the largest delivery organizations. Thus we have watched our beloved community hospitals get gobbled up by corporate chains and have held our breath hoping that Group Health could maintain its independent thinking and innovative spirit. Our greatest fear was that Group Health would lose its integrated — and secular — roots.

Along came Kaiser Permanente. Each one of us had that heart-sinking feeling when we heard about the acquisition. But once that moment passed, we had to think about our patients. What can Group Health do to preserve our care delivery model for the long-run? And what would be the best fit for us and our patients?

We met with Kaiser’s CEO and executives and looked closely at the proposed agreement. We thought long and hard about what this would mean if members voted the acquisition down. Given Kaiser’s history of innovation, respect for front-line nurses and health-care workers’ ideas, commitment to the whole-patient approach to care, and emphasis on wellness and on chronic disease management, we found this acquisition to be a great fit.

Kaiser Permanente shares with Group Health a model of care delivery where the insurer is integrated with the provider in order to offer cost savings and a better patient experience. And Kaiser also integrates behavioral health into its clinics and practices patient-centered care the way we do. Furthermore, it has a groundbreaking labor-management partnership where front-line caregivers like us, together with managers, work to improve the care we give. It’s an approach remarkably similar to Group Health’s.

In order to flourish and thrive, combining Group Health into Kaiser makes perfect sense. We, the front-line nurses and health-care workers at Group Health, will be voting “yes” on the Kaiser Permanente acquisition — for patients and our community.

Diane Sosne, a former Group Health nurse, is president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. The union represents 28,000 members, including nurses, and health-care and mental-health workers throughout Washington.

Con: Sale would subvert members’ interests

By Maralyn Chase
Special to The Times

GROUP Health Cooperative is one of the three largest health insurers in Washington state with more than 518,000 policyholders, 17.5 percent of the market and assets worth more than $2 billion in the form of long-term securities, land, buildings and equipment, and a surplus of more than $888 million.

The co-op was organized and operated in 1947 under consumer cooperative principles that have worked for more than a half-century. But those principles are now in jeopardy.

Co-op managers have proposed a plan to dissolve the cooperative, stripping the consumer members of their interests in the co-op’s $888 million of statutory surplus and eliminating their voting interests and control of the co-op. At the same time, the plan would divert $1.8 billion in acquisition proceeds to a new foundation with no member voting rights or control.

The co-op managers named themselves the managers of the new foundation and the diverted $1.8 billion. This not only raises serious questions of conflicts of interest, it is fundamentally unfair to the co-op’s members.

If the co-op is acquired by Kaiser Permanente, the managers could raise future premiums to pay back the $1.8 billion acquisition costs.

Under the co-op’s bylaws, the managers are required to provide members with “relevant information necessary for the members to make an informed decision including, but not limited to, any changes concerning the health care services to consumers and members, staff, facilities, the scope of consumer governance, and the financial impact on the cooperative.” But this has not been the case.

The managers have refused to provide information necessary for members to cast an informed vote. Areas of omission include alternative transactions that were considered by the co-op’s managers, the pros and cons of each, and the Evercore strategic analysis of alternatives that asserts that the dissolution of the co-op is fair from a “financial” point of view.

Consumer members want a transparent process and continue to ask for full and timely disclosure of the records used to justify the necessity for dissolving the cooperative and stripping the members of the surplus, voting rights and control.

This is an undemocratic, fast-track power play on the part of the co-op’s managers. Co-op members have been denied access to the necessary information, facts and implications, and consequences of the acquisition, as well as the opportunity to cast an informed vote. What kind of democratic organization allows fewer than 9 percent of its members to vote on an issue?

To that end, I am introducing legislation to establish a series of safeguards, including a requirement for 120 days’ advance notice of any such action to ensure that members have the opportunity to fully assess and challenge any potential changes that would affect them.

The result should be a cooperative that is governed democratically, that stands by its policies and values, and upholds its commitments to its members.

State Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, represents Washington’s 32nd Legislative District.