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Hawaii Public Workers Are Given Green Light To Switch Insurance Providers

The board of trustees of the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund approved a motion Tuesday that would allow its members who serve as state workers for the state to change insurance coverage.

State and county workers and teachers currently covered by Kaiser Permanente will be able to switch to the Hawaii Medical Service Association if they have trouble accessing Kaiser’s mental and behavioral health services. No other plan changes or change in dependents will be allowed.

Several Kaiser patients, Kaiser therapists and a representative from HMSA testified at the meeting, which was open to the public, and expressed disappointment that Kaiser did not send a representative.

Kaiser Permanente Mental Health Strike
Kaiser workers have been on strike for months. Courtesy: Hayley Showell/2022

In a press release, Kaiser spokeswoman Laura Lott said they “strongly believe that the bargaining table, and not a public forum, is the best place for substantive and productive labor negotiations.”

As the largest purchaser of health insurance in the state, the EUTF covers approximately 68,000 active employees, 47,000 retirees and a combined total of 80,000 dependents, according to its website.

Normally, EUTF members who wish to change insurance provider outside the open enrollment window will have to undergo a lengthy process by filing an appeal which will then be investigated by the board of trustees.

The now expedited process will remain in effect as long as Kaiser mental health workers strike or until June 30, if the strike continues, according to a press release from the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents the striking Kaiser workers.

In August, about 60 of Kaiser’s mental health providers went on strike against the HMO giant. After some recent resignations, 52 remain, now in their 100th day of one of the longest strikes by mental health care workers in American history.

Matt Artz, a NUHW representative, said Kaiser is still demanding to eliminate pensions for newly hired therapists and to pay its therapists in Hawaii about 20% less than their counterparts in Northern California, which recently signed a contract with Kaiser closed.

NUHW President Sal Rosselli said in the NUHW press release that they applaud the EUTF for taking action to protect its members who are struggling to access mental health care from Kaiser.

“This action will help thousands of Hawaii residents get potentially life-saving mental health care and sends a strong message to Kaiser that it cannot get away with ignoring the mental health needs of its members in Hawaii,” Rosselli said.

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