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Nurses and Kaiser Reach Agreement; HMO Boosts Rates

Kaiser Permanente of Northern California reached a contract settlement with its nurses that gives them a new watchdog role in quality of care. The deal gave nurses a 12-percent pay boost over four years, but more importantly, answered their claims of medical negligence by giving them a stronger voice in management.

The pact with the California Nurses Association allows the union to nominate 18 "quality care liaisons." These liaisons will visit Kaiser hospitals in Northern California, assess the quality of nursing services and report problems to a labor-management committee every six weeks.

Meanwhile, Kaiser has notified California employers that they will be hit with premium hikes of about 10 percent — an outgrowth of the $270 million bath the parent organization took in 1997.

The announcement created a standoff between the HMO and CalPERS, the California Public Employees Retirement System, which has already said that its employer members will experience an average premium increase of only 5 percent this year. CalPERS says Kaiser is demanding a 12-percent premium increase.

CalPERS has frozen Kaiser enrollments until the situation is resolved.

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