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Public Employees Health Insurance

PLASKON: Every 3 years the Health Services Coalition has to negotiate with hospitals in the valley for a new healthcare contract. Rusty McCalister Las Vegas Fire Fighter Health and Welfare Trustee remembers the last time negotiations broke down.

MCCALISTER: We actually picketed at one of the hospitals, we had to have press conferences and we had to go the distance and it was very difficult.

PLASKON: He says they are on the same track now.

MCCALISTER: Well, we are right back where we started 3 years ago.

PLASKON: Negotiations failed December 31, but hospitals extended the contract and negotiations for another month. David Kallas Executive Director of the Las Vegas Police Association new the price if negotiations ultimately failed.

KALLAS: Beginning Monday a person would have to pay 200 will now have to pay 300 and for a lot of people they are going to have to make decisions can I afford an extra hundred dollars for health care that I need or am I going to have to wait.

PLASKON: The public and non-profit University Medical Center and Boulder City Hospital did settle before the deadline this Monday, but other hospitals opted to extend the contract and negotiations through this week. They included Sunrise, Valley, Mountain View and Saint Rose, run by Catholic Health Care West. Kallas says that now that the valley has grown to more than 1.4 million people, the coalition's 300-thousand members have much less negotiating clout.

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KALLAS: I will be real upfront with you we are talking about large corporations all of which don't really have any base in the Las Vegas area, they are a business that comes here and say that they need a health care in Las Vegas, we have these large corporations that are making millions and millions of dollars in profits off the backs of hard working people here in our community and they are taking those profits outside the state they are asking for increases of 20-30 percent."

PLASKON: The charges hospitals bill across the state have historically risen nearly 1 billion dollars every year according to the State Division of Health Care Financing and Policy. In 2003 profits were up 141 percent to 47 million dollars. Today the department released statistics showing a 1.4 percent decrease in profits over last year to 42.1 million dollars. Some of that decrease according to the state is because hospitals are reinvesting some profits. Kallas had a message he wanted to take to the public today.

KALLAS: How much is enough? How much money do you need to make as a multi million dollar corporation is it worth making that much profit knowing that someone will go without the healthcare you need because you are not willing to be fair in how you negotiate a contract.

PLASKON: And medical bills are having a devastating impact. A Harvard Research study released this week showed that medical bills are listed as one of the causes for nearly half of all personal bankruptcies. A press conference was scheduled to spread Kallas's message of frustration regarding rising medical costs and frustration with failed negotiations.

KALLAS: We are postponing the press conference and we will give you a call later this afternoon.

PLASKON: But just moments before the press conference was to take place Lori Nelson of R&R Partners found her self for the first time calling off a press conference. A major hospital chain had suddenly agreed to deep negotiations.

BRIGMONE: I don't think that there was any question that they knew we were going to hold a press conference.

PLASKON: Andy Brigmone Attorney for the Health Services Coalition hopes hospitals will accept an offer the coalition put on the table this morning. He wouldn't reveal the details of that offer, but said it affords more than a 2- to- 3 percent increase. Amy Stevens market vice president for HCA hospital, Sunrise Hills and Mountain View, says hospitals are asking for a single digit increase.

STEVENS: Each saw some progress being made we feel optimistic that in the time that is still available to us before this expires something will be able to be worked out that will let us keep our patient concern first and foremost and be agreeable to our business interests.

PLASKON: However, the Health Services Coalition said negotiations completely fell apart yesterday after the press conference was cancelled. Calls to the Nevada Hospital Association weren't returned by deadline. But in a previous interview, Bill Welsh of the Nevada Hospital Association told KNPR that hard bargaining by entities like the Health Services Coalition force hospitals to raise prices for the uninsured as much as 60 percent. The hospital contracts with the Health Services Coalition are set to expire before Tuesday at midnight leaving 300-some thousand teachers, police, firefighters and union members without insurance.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR

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Friday, February 4, 2005