Hundreds of New Jersey doctors, angry over what they call intrusive control by HMOs, have become the first private-practice physicians in the country to apply for the right to unionize.
The doctors asked the National Labor Relations Board to appoint United Food and Commercial Workers Local 56 to represent them in collective bargaining with AmeriHealth HMO, a subsidiary of Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross.
Union officials contend the HMO is the de facto employer of 400 to 500 doctors in two counties because it supervises them, sets working conditions, makes unannounced inspections and even limits the care they give patients.
HMOs, they argue, cut costs at the expense of patients.
"As bad as it is for the physicians, it's ultimately much worse for the patients," because HMOs often delay or deny crucial patient care, said Dr. Arthur Nahas, a family practitioner.
Jim Panyard, spokesman for Independence, AmeriHealth's parent, had no comment.
Salaried doctors employed by government-run hospitals or health agencies are already unionizing in some areas. But up to now, privately employed physicians have been considered independent contractors and barred from collective bargaining.
"If we are successful in doing this, it will bring about a major change in the way medical care is delivered to people nationwide," said Local 56 president Anthony Cinaglia.