L.A. workers oppose cutting Cedars, UCLA doctors from health plan

Some Los Angeles city workers criticized a move to cut doctors affiliated with Cedars-Sinai and UCLA from an employee health plan, and they urged city leaders to restore access to those physicians.

The outpouring of criticism came at a city meeting Friday after the cash-strapped city opted for the slimmer network of medical providers from Anthem Blue Cross, in part to save $7.6 million on health premiums next year.

The city estimates that 2,200 city workers and their dependents may lose access to their doctors under these health contracts, which cover about 60,000 people overall. Although access to certain doctors would be cut, hospital care at Cedars-Sinai and UCLA would not be excluded from the health plan network.

At the meeting Friday, more than 15 city attorneys, librarians, engineers and other employees protested the change. Several said they would be willing to pay more to maintain access to their regular doctors.

Clive Grawe, a 60-year-old city traffic engineer, said he received a kidney transplant in 2009 and relies on doctors at Cedars-Sinai for his ongoing care.

“Those doctors have saved my life on four separate occasions,” Grawe told the city’s joint labor-management benefits committee, which held the Friday meeting and approved the health plan that excludes doctors from UCLA and Cedars-Sinai.

Other city employees, sometimes in emotional testimony, described their battles with cancer and other medical conditions that require specialty treatment that, they said, often is available locally only at those nationally recognized healthcare institutions.

Miguel Santana, the city’s chief administrative officer and a committee member, said any move to eliminate the healthcare savings might trigger the need for further employee layoffs.

A proposal to restore the medical groups from UCLA and Cedars-Sinai to the city’s PPO plan was made at Friday’s committee meeting, but it failed to win enough votes. Anthem’s Select HMO plan would have continued to exclude those physicians under that proposal.

The city’s benefits committee will discuss this issue again Tuesday, and the full Los Angeles City Council is to take up the matter next month.

About 32,000 city employees and family members with Kaiser Permanente plans are not affected by these changes, which would go into effect Jan. 1.