D.C. Federal Judge Orders Hospital to Roll Back Huge Health Care Hikes for Nurses

            WASHINGTON—A federal judge in D.C. has ordered management at the Washington Hospital Center, the capital’s biggest hospital, to roll back health insurance deductible increases and coinsurance maximums for its 1,850 unionized nurses.  The deductibles tripled for 40% of the nurses at the beginning of 2012.
            In a July 10 victory for the WHC nurses and their union, National Nurses United, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon upheld an arbitrator’s ruling that the hikes violated the union’s contract with the hospital.  He also threw out the hospital’s plan, imposed at the same time, to force its nurses to use only WHC facilities and doctors for medical care.
            “The arbitrator was within his authority and drawing from the essence of the collective bargaining agreement in making findings and concluding that ‘by its modifica-tions to the 2012 Health Insurance Plan, WHC materially diminished the health plan as a whole, in violation of’” the relevant section of the union contract, Judge Leon said.
            Hospital management’s arguments “that the arbitrator’s analysis was too narrow (i.e., not focused on the plan ‘as a whole’) are not persuasive. The arbitrator considered a variety of factors including: Changes in plan design for 2012, actuarial change in the value of the plan, cost savings” for the hospital, “cost increases and other adverse effects to covered nurses, and the number of nurses adversely affected.
            “Specifically, the arbitrator found 40% of covered nurses would face a deductible nearly three times higher in 2012, compared to 2011,” and that violates the contract, Leon said.  The contract only allows minimal increases for individuals.  Union-wide provisions must be negotiated, the arbitrator said.  Leon agreed.
            The ruling elated NNU.  Hospital management had no immediate comment.
            “This is vindication for the 1,850 NNU nurses at MedStar Washington Hospital Center who stood together to protect our ability to make decisions about our own health care,” Stephen Frum, a nurse on the burn/surgical intensive care unit and the NNU’s chief nurse representative, said in an NNU-issued statement.
            “Because we have a strong union, we were able to stop MedStar’s attempt to unilaterally change the terms and conditions of our employment.  Unfortunately, the hospital wasted tens of thousands of dollars in these legal proceedings that should have gone for patient care, when it could have simply respected the rights of its bedside caregivers from the beginning,” Frum explained.
“If MedStar wants to confront the significant nurse turnover rate” at the hospital, “it should start with respecting its contractual commitments to the nurses,” he said.