Health care pool saves members $8 millionA group of unions...


February 19, 1993|By Kim Clark and Pat Meisol

Health care pool saves members $8 million

A group of unions that united to try to lower members' health care costs is claiming initial success.

The mid-Atlantic region of the Health Care Cost Containment Corp. has announced that it saved 75,000 area clients a total of $8 million in the first nine months of operations.

It estimated the savings by comparing HCCC's rates with the rates its doctors charged other patients.

The nonprofit corporation claims to be the first of its kind in the nation. It has pooled union members from small locals across a large region -- members who don't work for the same company -- and has negotiated with area doctors for lower rates. In addition, each of the member unions gets to set its own benefit plan.

L.E. Laurion Jr., benefits consultant for the Segal Co., which administers the HCCC fund, said that so far, 75,000 Maryland, Washington and Virginia residents have joined up.

They are members, or relatives of members, of the 27 unions that formed the corporation, including locals belonging to the Teamsters, Longshoremen and Bricklayers unions, Mr. Laurion said.

Family income lagged inflation in 1992

America's families are having a harder time making ends meet.

The weekly earnings of families didn't keep pace with inflation last year, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.

The median family earned $690 a week last year, 2.1 percent more than the year before. Inflation last year pushed prices 3 percent higher.

Worse, more families are reporting that at least one member is looking for work and hasn't been able to find a job.

The proportion of such families rose to 9.3 percent in the last quarter of 1992, up from 8.9 percent a year earlier.

Anti-cancer drugs may imperil workers

Healers may be making themselves sick.

Hospital workers who administer anti-cancer drugs are putting themselves at risk of developing cancer, according to the director of the office of occupational medicine for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Studies show that doctors, nurses and pharmacists breathe in or otherwise absorb the dangerous drugs they give to patients, Dr. Melissa A. McDiarmid told a group of physicians at a conference on women's health issues in Baltimore last week.

The drugs are supposed to kill cancerous cells, but sometimes ** kill healthy cells too, and that's the problem, Dr. McDiarmid said. The drugs, which are worthwhile for gravely ill patients, often cause cancer or harm people's reproductive health, she said.

Most of the people affected by the drugs are women, and nurses tend to be women. But "this is not just a women's health issue," she said.

So far, there's been no noticeable increase in the cancer rates for health care workers. But Dr. McDiarmid said that's because cancer's long latency period is just coming due for many of the drugs.

"We are right at the threshold. If we are going to see a new wave of occupational diseases, it is going to start around now," she said.

She is most worried about AIDS drugs, which are often administered as aerosols and so contaminate whole rooms.

And Dr. McDiarmid, who lives in Baltimore and joined the government after several years at the Johns Hopkins University, said her work in the research hospital sparked her concern about experimental drugs. They can be dangerous, but, often, nurses and cleanup crews don't know of the dangers.

Many of the compounds, in other workplaces, are dangerous enough to be covered by OSHA. But OSHA hasn't issued hospital regulations yet because "we didn't tend to think of a hospital as a hazardous workplace."

OSHA is considering forcing hospitals and clinics to handle dangerous materials more safely, she said.

Layoff specialists seek new niches

Another hopeful sign for the economy: layoff specialists are branching out.

The head of the local Right Associates office says companies are now asking him "What else can you do?," besides preparing for layoffs and helping find new jobs for laid-off workers.

The local office, whose clients include companies such as Armco Inc., which is cutting its staffing at its East Biddle Street plant from 800 to 50 workers, is looking toward the time when layoffs aren't so common.

For example, Senior Vice President Martin G. Pilachowski said the Philadelphia-based company now calls itself a "career transition consultant," instead of the scarier and more limited "outplacement specialist."

He said the local office is responding to demand for non-layoff services by developing "commitment workshops," which are designed to help companies win back the loyalty of workers who've survived layoffs.

And Right is developing an international computerized "job bank" linking the company's nearly 100 offices.

In a speech to local human resources managers this week, Mr. Pilachowski and Right Associates Chairman Frank P. Louchheim said that after 12 years of helping companies cut back, they've learned that the more time a company has to plan a layoff, the less painful it can be.

If a company is short on money, they said, it should spend to rebuild loyalty among workers who remain on the job -- before helping laid-off workers get new jobs.

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