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County Workers Angry at Health Plan's Hospital Switch

February 23, 1988|JIM CARLTON | Times Staff Writer

Dozens of angry county government employees have signed petitions threatening to pull out of Cigna Healthplans after the insurance company quietly dropped St. Joseph Hospital as its primary medical provider in Orange County.

Ninety employees of county government signed a petition and submitted it to the county's personnel office, which has arranged a meeting with Cigna officials to find out why the county was not consulted before the decision to drop St. Joseph of Orange was made in January, Jan Goss, executive assistant to Board of Supervisors' Chairman Harriett M. Wieder, said Monday.

Protest letters have also been mailed to Cigna's regional headquarters in Glendale, Goss said.

Western Medical Center of Anaheim and Santa Ana has contracted with Cigna to become its new medical provider in the county after the three-year contract St. Joseph has with the insurance company expires in June, according to Del Bowman, director of marketing-communications for Cigna Healthplans of California.

Bowman said Western was chosen partly because it has more beds to meet Cigna's growing county enrollment. Western's hospitals in Anaheim and Santa Ana have a total of 568 beds, contrasted with 519 at St. Joseph.

Bowman said another deciding factor was Western's "competitive economic situation," contrasted with how much it cost to contract with St. Joseph. He declined to reveal financial details of either the new or old hospital contracts.

Officials of St. Joseph and Western could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Goss said county employees found out about the change through the grapevine in recent weeks. She said they were not told during Cigna's open enrollment period in November and December that the company was contemplating a change of hospitals.

"We feel that our people should have been told that," Goss said.

Bowman said the employees were not advised during the enrollment period because Cigna had not yet completed its contractual negotiations with Western. Bowman added that the county employees, along with all other Cigna policyholders in Orange County, would have been told of the change soon through company mailers.

"We release information as it becomes timely," Bowman said.

Cigna represents 89,000 people in the county. Most of the 8,500 county government employees are represented by Cigna, according to John H. Sawyer, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn.

Sawyer said his office has received "two dozen" calls in the last two weeks from OCEA stewards, who were complaining about the change on behalf of the 40-50 employees they each represent.

Bowman said that Cigna began last fall offering a separate independent plan under which policyholders can go to a pre-selected group of doctors who have staff privileges at various hospitals, including St. Joseph. But Bowman said most Cigna policyholders fall under the older group plan.

The employees have the option of renewing their insurance are switching to a new program at the end of every year. Goss said several employees have signed form letters indicating that they will withdraw from Cigna by year's end if the company goes ahead with its decision to drop St. Joseph.

Health insurance was a thorny issue in last year's contract talks between the OCEA and the Board of Supervisors. Upset about pay and a proposed 58% increase in their self-insured program, county employees picketed last summer outside the Hall of Administration in Santa Ana.

A new two-year contract was ratified in November, however, after the county agreed to a phased 10% pay increase and a reduced 28% increase in the self-insurance premiums.

Times staff writer Lanie Jones contributed to this story.

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