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Tuesday, May 20, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Letters To The Editor

Group Health And Kaiser -- Proposed Merger May Not Be In Group Health's Interest

Condolences to the members of Group Health Cooperative on the merger of your health system with Kaiser Permanente.

Once identified with community-oriented care, Kaiser is rapidly becoming a poster child for corporate medicine and managed care abuse. The Kaiser story today is an undistinguished record of service cuts, limits on referrals to specialists, needed tests and procedures, inadequate staffing of facilities, and pushing patients out the door while still ill, posing a risk for themselves and a care burden for their families.

It gets worse. In Texas, Kaiser recently paid a $1 million fine following a state investigation over Kaiser's rejection of members' emergency-care claims and poor quality assurance. In California, Kaiser has faced the loss of federal Medicare and Medicaid funding at urban hospitals in low-income communities after a joint federal-state investigation found serious deficiencies in emergency, respiratory care, nursing services, staffing, and quality assurance. In both instances, the investigations followed a series of patient deaths.

The nation's foremost consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, recently condemned Kaiser's "downsizing initiatives (which) seem to know no bounds as they wrestle with the race to the bottom of other HMOs."

Kaiser hardly needs to cut costs at the expense of patients. In the past four years, Kaiser has rolled up more than $2.4 billion in profits, and doled out pay hikes of 78 percent and 293 percent to its two top executives.

Kaiser's expansion in the Pacific Northwest and patient care problems in California and Texas are not isolated occurrences, but a part of a national strategy designed by Kaiser's multimillion-dollar management consultants. Their plan is intended to cherry pick new healthier customers while limiting services to those they deem as higher utilizers of care. It may be good business, but at a cost our society can hardly afford.

Rose Ann DeMoro Executive director, California Nurses Association San Francisco

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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