VENTURA COUNTY: Physicians Ponder Unionization
Losing more and more autonomy for treatment decisions and receiving increasingly smaller reimbursements, physicians in Ventura County are "fed up ... frustrated and angry" with HMOs, the Ventura County Star reports. The recent vote by the American Medical Association to unionize may or may not be the solution, but most agree that there will be serious repercussions. While the AMA prefers the term "collective bargaining unit," many people still refer to their planned organization as a union. This does not sit well with some, who feel the connotation of a union refers to workers who are "downtrodden," and certainly not to physicians at the upper end of the pay scale. Sokolov Schwab Bennett consultant Ted Schwab said, "Unions have supported and protected working men and women who were being run roughshod by management and that isn't what is going on here." Dr. Peter Gaal, a cardiovascular surgeon in Ventura, said "Doctors used to be, if not on a pedestal, at least admired. We're now perceived as increasingly money-oriented and self-aggrandizing." However, others see unionization as the only recourse to "persuade the HMOs to change their ways and pay fees that physicians say are fair." Dr. Gus Iwasiuk contends that his patients will continue to receive lower quality care until something changes. He said he "see[s] no options" to unionization stating, "More and More, doctors are directed about what they can and can't do. And a lot of times it seems that it's a non-physician making those directives." However, he does allow that doctors "do make a pretty good living. But it's getting to be less and less. And once you're used to a certain level, to go down is difficult." But Dr. Max Stearns, a local urologist and alternate delegate to the AMA, said, "It's my personal opinion that ... in most cases, unions have not increased wages. They have usually been able to improve the quality (of the workplace)." If a physicians' union does form, some doctors would be open to the possibility of a strike; others believe it would never happen. Dr. Charles Hair, a retired Ventura County physician and former president of the California Medical Association, said "You're seeing the extremes put on by both sides and the truth is someplace in between. ... Patients are the ones caught in the middle of this battle" (Sullivan, 7/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.