Hartford Hospital’s “Morally Wrong” Tactics in Dispute with Health Insurer are “Shameful and Dangerous”

by Matt O'Connor on October 27th

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) has taken action in response to what it believes are violations of the protected privacy rights of its unions’ members by Hartford Hospital. At issue is the hospital’s direct communications with its own patients in an effort to use them for leverage in contentious negotiations with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The coalition has filed a Health Information Privacy Complaint with the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights on behalf of its members over the hospital’s actions.

SEBAC’s complaint comes on the heels of a strongly worded letter to Hartford Hospital President and C.E.O. Elliot Joseph signed by employers, municipalities and other groups representing over 200,000 people throughout Connecticut. The letter asks the Joseph to stop seeking double digit rate increases in its negotiations with Anthem and reach a reasonable compromise before patients are denied in-network coverage at the hospital.

“Using access to patients’ medical records simply to pressure an insurer to accede to their demands is morally wrong,” said attorney for SEBAC Robert J. Krzys.

SEBAC contends that Hartford Hospital’s letter writing campaign to active and retired State employees is improper because it puts their unions’ members in the middle of a negotiations dispute. The complaint claims that it is improper to use protected health information in the context of negotiations with an insurer.

“We believe private health care information is to be used for healthcare purposes — not as a bargaining strategy with an insurer over reimbursement rates”, said Krzys, who also represents SEBAC on the State Health Care Cost Containment Committee (HCCCC). The HCCCC has successfully kept insurance rate increases to a minimum for the State Employee Health Plan.

“Hartford Hospital is manipulating our members, many of whom are deeply worried about the future of their medical care,” said Jean Morningstar, president of University Health Professionals, Local 3837 in AFT Connecticut. “The hospital is simply trying to achieve a better financial outcome in their negotiations with Anthem. This is a shameful and dangerous tactic to engage simply for profit. People need to know that they can rely on the privacy of their health information and the security of their medical coverage,” said Morningstar, whose union represents 2,600 health professionals at UConn Health Center.

Hartford Hospital has informed the Office of the State Comptroller that it has already fired one employee who it confirms engaged in improper discussions with at least one State employee who is undergoing a serious regimen of treatment. The hospital nevertheless continues to claim it can get away with contacting patients in order to encourage them to contact Anthem on behalf of the hospital’s negotiating position.

AFT is one of the 13 unions in the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), which serves to unite approximately 45,000 Connecticut State workers to address issues of common concern. To learn more about the coalition’s campaign for a fair budget and a livable state with great public services visit www.InThisTogetherCT.org.

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October 19 Health Information Privacy Complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services

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