Federal lawmakers urge Tenet to speed COBRA benefits for striking Massachusetts nurses

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A group of lawmakers is calling on Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare to expedite Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act benefits for nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., who have been on strike for about two months.  

In a May 5 letter, the members of Congress expressed their concern about the benefits and highlighted how the striking nurses are entitled to COBRA benefits under the American Rescue Plan relief package signed by President Joe Biden in March.

The letter is signed by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, as well as U.S. Reps. James McGovern, William Keating, Katherine Clark, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, Lori Trahan and Jake Auchincloss.

"The ARP is not intended to dither and delay in providing this critical assistance — especially when giving front-line workers the health insurance they deserve," the lawmakers wrote. 

They added that the striking nurses "deserve swift action to ensure they are adequately provided for as the law intended. We respectfully urge Tenet to move expeditiously to provide the professional nurses the COBRA benefits they are entitled to under the ARP."

In response to the letter, Saint Vincent said it is not delaying the processing of paperwork regarding COBRA coverage or potential subsidy eligibility for nurses and sent appropriate notices about COBRA coverage to nurses at the beginning of the strike. As of May 7, fewer than 10 percent of striking nurses have applied for COBRA coverage, according to the hospital.

"The federal government, including the congressional delegation who sent us a letter requesting we comply with COBRA laws, passed legislation that provides COBRA premium assistance during the pandemic," said Saint Vincent. "Because of the systematic changes required to implement the premium assistance, the government gave all companies 60 days to implement the changes. In compliance with the law, we are working with our vendor and will meet this COBRA premium subsidy deadline for all our employees, though all may not qualify. The vendor we use for the administration of COBRA provides this service for many companies across the country and cannot carve out any one employer or group of employees to expedite."

The hospital added that eligible striking nurses will get COBRA premium assistance as soon as possible.

The letter from lawmakers comes amid a labor dispute between Saint Vincent and the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents about 800 nurses at the facility. Saint Vincent nurses have been on strike since March 8, with staffing being a major point of contention.

The union and Saint Vincent have not resolved differences on the issue of staffing, and the strike is slated to enter its 10th week May 10. 

Members of Congress also sent a separate letter to Tenet May 5, urging the hospital and union "to support efforts to reach an agreement that is in the best interests of the entire community, the hospital and its workers."

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