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Negotiations Between Oregon and Home Care Workers Stall Over Health Care

January 19, 2012

Oregon's state capitol building

Contract negotiations between Oregon and the union representing home care workers there have stalled over a state proposal to substantially raise the eligibility requirements for aides to receive health insurance.

A bargaining team led by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) wants to require home care aides that provide Medicaid-covered services to low-income elders and people with disabilities to work 130 hours a month for three consecutive months in order to qualify for health benefits. Currently, aides must work 80 hours for three straight months.

The increase in hours would cause 2,000 of the state’s 12,000 home care aides to lose their benefits, according to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents the aides.

In late December, negotiations between the state and the union reached an impasse, largely because of the insurance issue. Discussions between the two sides will re-open next month.

On January 18, a group of about 100 home care workers staged a protest against the cuts in Kitzhaber’s office.

The governor said that he respected home care workers and collective bargaining rights in general. “We will try to do all we can,” he said.

Budget Woes Cited

Kitzhaber’s bargaining team says that the cuts to home care workers’ benefits are necessary to help close a $300 million budget gap.

Oregon’s in-home care program has been the target of cuts before. On Jan. 1, home care workers saw their hours reduced by 5 percent, a move that saved the state $4 million.

But the SEIU and AARP Oregon say that the newly proposed benefits cuts go too far. The organizations have launched a media campaign asking Oregonians to speak out against the proposed cuts.

“It is extremely disappointing that Gov. Kitzhaber and his team are attempting to reduce benefits for low-wage workers just to save the state a few million dollars,” said PHI Government Affairs Director Carol Regan.

“Beyond that, this is bad fiscal policy,” Regan added. “Reducing low-wage workers’ access to health care will result in higher Medicaid enrollment and put a greater strain on emergency medical care in Oregon. These cuts will simply shift costs, not lower them.”

— by Matthew Ozga

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