Statement by CNA on Death of Michelle Rodgers

California Nurses Association Backs GE Strikers

The following statement was issued January 15, by the California Nurses Association (CNA).

The two-day strike at the giant General Electric corporation took a dreadful turn this morning with the tragic death of Kjeston Michelle Rodgers, a young single mother of three who was struck by a police car while she walked the picket line outside a GE plant in Louisville, KY. What’s happening at GE is a reflection of a general crisis over healthcare affecting millions of working people.

The unions involved are performing a valuable service by giving high visibility to the crisis. This is clearly only the beginning. The spread of health insurance cuts, and the hikes in out-of-pocket expenses [for workers, imposed by] corporate employers, is causing real pain and increasing insecurity for families across the country.

This action by union members at GE is a reflection of the more general healthcare crisis arising from a healthcare delivery system now dominated by giant corporations and the skyrocketing cost to keep it going.

Although concerted efforts are made to conceal the real reason for the escalating costs, there is no secret as to the root cause of the crisis. Prices are being driven constantly higher by:

(One) The massive and unprecedented amount of merger and acquisition activity in the healthcare industries since 1993, totaling $716 billion.

The total breaks down:

·        Pharmaceutical industry—$457 billion

·        Hospital industry—$133 billion

·        Health maintenance organizations (HMOs)—$77 billion

·        Medical instruments and devices—$49 billion

(Two) The managed-care-driven hospital consolidation [is being] carried out for the purpose of garnering higher reimbursements. For the country’s two largest for-profit hospital corporations it has meant:

Tenet Healthcare—profit for 1999-2001:  $1.25 billion

HCA—profit for 1999-2001: $1.7 billion

The figures above demonstrate why costs are spiraling out of control and who profits from them. The response of the HMOs and other insurers to these escalating healthcare costs has been to steadily raise premiums to those employers providing or contributing to the insurance of employees. This has meant double-digit premium increases over each of the past two years. This situation is particularly stark in California, where CalPERS, the second largest purchaser of insurance in the country, saw premium increases of more than 20 percent.

(Three) Drugs prices are a primary driver of healthcare cost inflation. The pharmaceutical industry continues to be the most profitable industry in the country, reaping billions. Employers have passed the cost along to workers with higher co-pays, less benefits, tiered programs, or cutting health insurance entirely. This is combined with an increase in the number of people with no health insurance—now amounting to about 15 percent of the population. With the economy in recession, the numbers of uninsured are expected to increase. The uninsured use expensive emergency rooms for their primary care.

The consequence of these developments has been that employers like GE have decided to do battle with their own employees rather that take on the HMOs or confront the drug companies and their excessive profiteering. This week’s strike at GE and last year’s 44-day healthcare-related strike by Hershey workers are indications that the unions representing hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers have decided to fight back.

Health insurance is expected to be one of the main issues for contract negotiations involving autoworkers and members of the Teamsters union this summer.  It is a disgrace that workers, like Kjeston Michelle Rodgers, are forced by their employers to fight to prevent their health insurance from being stolen from them and their families. It was because of her concern for the healthcare security of her family that Kjeston Rodgers was on the picket line at 5 a.m. when she was slain.

That is the concern of the 450 nurses, members of the California Nurses Association, who have been on strike for over a month at Doctors Hospital in San Pablo and Pinole, California.

Throughout the country, nurses who have dedicated their lives to delivering compassionate healthcare find that upon retiring they are uninsured and unable to afford the care they need. This situation, like the move by corporations like GE to make it hard for employees to have healthcare security, is a disgrace that needs urgent attention.

Indeed, our entire crisis-plagued healthcare system needs reexamination and remedial action. Only by fundamentally changing the way we finance healthcare will we be able to contain skyrocketing costs and guarantee healthcare for all. The story of Kjeston Rodgers, who died in the effort to alter the present course, should be enshrined in our memory, never to be forgotten.