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Kaiser mental health patients can switch to HMSA as strike continues

kaiser permanente moanalua
Ryan Kawailani Ozawa
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Kaiser Permanente’s mental health care workers have now been on strike for 15 weeks.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers has been bargaining with the hospital’s administration for better pay and benefits to improve its retention rate, and hire more therapists. Patients sometimes wait two to three months to book an appointment with their therapist.

Kaiser members that have not been able to see their therapists during the strike but need mental health care may be able to switch to a plan under the Hawaiʻi Medical Service Association.

The Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund is trying to coordinate the switch.

At a meeting earlier this week, EUTF trustees voted in favor of creating an expedited appeals process that will allow members to leave Kaiser without any investigation as long as they are receiving inadequate access to mental health care.

Members can usually switch insurers only during open enrollment, but EUTF board member Osa Tui said this situation needs immediate aid.

"These workers have been out for 15 weeks. They’re not out for nothing. They’re out for legitimate reasons. They have concerns. They see these patients all the time but they haven’t seen them in the past 15 weeks. This is not something that we need to just brush off. This is something serious, something that we need to take care of," Tui said.

No one from Kaiser attended the meeting with EUTF despite the request for their attendance.

"Despite the union’s counterproductive tactics, we will continue to bargain in good faith with NUHW and strongly believe that the bargaining table, not a public forum, is the best place for substantive and productive labor negotiations," Kaiser said in a statement.

Kaiser members can switch to HMSA as long as Kaiser therapists remain on strike or until June 30, 2023, if the strike is still ongoing. Once they make the switch, the patient can stay with their HMSA therapist until they decide to move back to Kaiser.

For Kaiser members interested in switching to HMSA, complete the appeal form and submit it to 201 Merchant Street, Suite 1700, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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