A 3-month strike in Kaiser? The insurance company is preparing for the worst in California

Kaiser Permanente is looking to hire therapists who can help it survive at least three months of a strike by mental health doctors, to lure potential recruits with promises of lucrative signing bonuses and premium payments.

Sally Levi Albert, a licensed marriage and family specialist, said she quit the Kaiser Network in March 2022 but received the offer in an email. In it, a Kaiser employee wrote: “We have a need to secure ongoing access to outpatient mental health services for our members over the next eight to 10 weeks as we work through contract negotiations that are currently underway with” the consortium representing mental health clinicians.

Kaiser’s offer promised a “significant financial incentive” to those willing to commit to a predetermined number of 60-minute appointments per day for up to eight weeks, starting August 29. Therapists will be paid in advance for the appointments they book for their members.

Leaders of the National Federation of Health Care Workers said the offers show Kaiser has the resources to reach an agreement that would end the strike and improve working conditions.

They offer these jobs with rewards and pay. (This) clearly indicates that Kaiser has the resources to address the underlying problems that precipitated the strike, namely inadequate staffing levels that force patients to endure long waiting periods for care,” said Fred Seyfe, director of research at the batting union.

Kaiser Permanente leaders acknowledged in a written statement that the company is hiring contract therapists to weather the strike. Company executives said the National Federation of Health Care Workers is using the strike to create a crisis in accessing mental health care in Kaiser.

“We are on track to reach agreements with hundreds of community mental health providers to open their schedules – for at least two months – so we can treat more of our patients,” the statement read. “They agree to do so on very short notice, and given the (union) open strike, the support of these caregivers may continue to be necessary to ensure continuity of care for our patients. We are grateful to them and look forward to a continuing relationship with them as the union’s open strike continues.”

Delays in Kaiser Mental Health Appointments

Leslie Hansen said Kaiser’s offer to pay up front and offer big incentives is a far cry from what independent therapists expected from the company. After her retirement, Hansen practiced for 40 years as a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Santa Rosa area and contracted with Kaiser for part of her career.

Hansen said that many independent therapists in her area will only take clients who can pay out of their pocket because they don’t want to deal with insurance companies. She added that Kaiser and other insurance companies pay less than Medicare and Medi-Cal, often making it difficult for therapists to get paid, and directing them through applications where they have to file dozens or more inquiries to get paid.

Albert sent an email to her peers, strongly urging them to reject Kaiser’s offer: “This strike is an important way for clinicians to force KB to do the right thing — putting the same money, resources, and energy into providing mental health care that they are putting into their physical health care offerings.”

Prior to the strike, the whistleblower exchanged internal documents showing that members of the Caesar in the Sacramento area were Wait two months For follow-up appointments with your therapist, after an initial intake session. A new California law that took effect in July requires health plans to schedule follow-up sessions within 10 business days if a therapist recommends it.

A “normal” tactic for US companies in strikes

Jane McAleigh is a policy fellow at the University of California, Berkeley Job Center Any strike aims to create a crisis For a company, it’s a tactic that rank and file workers use to focus the audience’s attention on a systematic problem.

McAlevey described Kaiser’s incentives for contract therapists as “Ordinary “union-busting strategy in the US. In Germany, where she regularly consults with unions, the constitution prohibits companies from replacing workers in this way,” she said.

In the US, though, “employers are suddenly willing to pay outrageous premiums to replacement workers rather than invest that money… striking workers, in this case, are demanding that they help patients get better care,” McAlevy said.

In his statement, Kaiser said he was close to reaching an agreement with union negotiators, but the National Health Federation began the strike on August 15 anyway. Union members, who were interviewed during the strike at Sacramento-area hospitals, said Kaiser did not come close to what they felt was necessary to improve working conditions enough to reduce employee turnover rates.

They noted that 20% of Kaiser therapists have left the company since June 2021. Kaiser leaders said the figure is not much different from the national turnover in the overall healthcare industry.

This story was originally published August 26, 2022 5:25 am.

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Kathy Anderson covers healthcare for The Bee. Her parents grew up blue collar people who paid out of their pockets for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and article editor. She previously worked for newspapers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American Statesman.

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