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New York City Nurses May Stage Strike Over Health Benefits

Thousands of nurses at three New York City hospitals may stage their biggest strike in at least a decade if they fail to reach an agreement on health benefits.

The 6,000 unionized nurses, who work about 3,800 patient beds and handle hundreds of thousands of annual visits, say they shouldn’t be paying more for their health benefits. Negotiations are taking place at Mount Sinai Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center.

Hospitals, which face rising pension costs after market losses and will lose some government support under the 2010 health-care overhaul, say they can’t afford to spend so much on benefits for their workers. The New York State Nurses’ Association would give hospitals 10 days’ notice before starting a strike, which it hasn’t done, said Mark Genovese, a spokesman.

“Management wants to gut their health-care benefits, weakening the scope of the benefits and making them pay more,” Genovese said. “Nursing is an incredibly physically demanding job.”

The overhaul President Barack Obama signed last year will cut $156 billion in U.S. payments to hospitals through 2019, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. Nurses, protected by unions, already contribute less to their health care than other employees do, hospitals said.

“The fact is that with the cost share, nurses at The Mount Sinai Hospital would be paying approximately 20 percent of the monthly cost share paid by other health-care professionals at Mount Sinai, who are part of the same health-care team and who work alongside the nurses every day,” said Jeanne Bernard, spokeswoman for Mount Sinai.

At Montefiore, nurses pay nothing for single or family health coverage, according to a chart from the hospital. The senior management pay 31 percent of their premiums.

When nurses strike, the hospitals must find temporary replacements to continue operating. Nurses’ strikes in New York between 1984 and 2004 increased in-hospital deaths by 19.4 percent and 30-day readmission by 6.5 percent, according to a March 2010 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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