Essentia Health Terminates 50 Employees for Not Getting Flu Vaccine

Essentia Health, an integrated health company based in Minnesota, has fired around 50 employees after they failed to get vaccinated for influenza. The company recently announced a new policy for all employees who had no medical or religious grounds for an exemption to get the flu shot, or otherwise risk termination. Essentia Health reportedly gave the November 20 deadline for the flu shots in October.

The company has its headquarters in Duluth, Minnesota. It has a number of long-term care and assisted living facilities, as well as 75 clinics and 15 hospitals a research institute and several ambulance services. Essentia Health serves rural communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Idaho. There are 14,700 people who work at Essentia Health, including at least 1,900 doctors and healthcare practitioners. The National Committee for Quality Assurance has accredited the Essentia Health system as an Accountable Care Organization.

Earlier this year, the company had allegedly asked employees to receive the vaccination to prevent already sick patients from getting sicker. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an advisory encouraging people to get the flu vaccine as it greatly decreases the possibility of getting infected, even though the vaccine is not one hundred percent effective. “Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. In 2017, a study in Pediatrics was the first of its kind to show that flu vaccination also significantly reduced a child’s risk of dying from influenza. The more people who get vaccinated, the more people will be protected from flu, including older people, very young children, pregnant women, and people with certain long-term health conditions who are more vulnerable to serious flu complications.”

In their flu update page, updated on December 1, 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the number of people seeking health care for flu-like symptoms is higher than the national baseline and that flu activity indicators are greater than usual. “Four states reported widespread flu activity, ten states reported regional flu activity and 24 states reported local influenza activity.”

Dr . Rajesh Prabhu, Essentia Health’s Chief Patient Quality and Safety Officer, said that the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and vulnerable members of the community. Dr. Prabhu is also a specialist in treating infectious diseases. “Getting a flu shot is not only the most effective way to prevent getting a serious case of influenza, but it also protects members of our community, especially the most vulnerable – elderly, young children, and those with significant health conditions that may not respond as well to the flu vaccine.”

However, there are three workers’ unions that have fought the company’s vaccination policy and pursued an injunction from federal courts to prevent Essentia Health from terminating employees who refused to comply with its flu vaccine policy.

In a letter to its members dated November 13, 2017, United Steelworkers’ representatives wrote, “We filed a grievance because we believe that this unilaterally implemented policy violates our collective bargaining agreement. We also filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) because we believe that the Company did not have the right under federal labor law to establish this policy without bargaining.”

The Minnesota Nurses Association and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Council 65, has also filed complaints against Essentia Health.

The Minnesota Nurses Union also announced in a statement that it will intercede on behalf of any terminated nurse and file a grievance against the company. They also explained the nurses’ reasons for not getting the flu vaccine. “Nurses continue to oppose the mandatory flu shot policy for many reasons. Voluntary programs have been shown to easily increase participation; such policies often do not take into account employees’ religious or moral convictions; and healthcare workers are often disciplined for using sick time within a period of time – even if the sick time is a result to an adverse flu shot reaction.”

Originally formed in January 2004 when the Benedictine Health System partnered with the SMCD Health System, Essentia Health was also joined by Innovis Health in 2008. That same year, all the health facilities of the Benedictine Health System were transferred to the company as well. In 2010, the company expanded further when the SMDC Health System, Brainerd Lakes Health, Innovis Health, Essentia Community Hospitals and Clinics, and the Essentia Institute of Rural Health all came together.

For more information on Essentia Health, please see

To see the CDC statement on the 2017-2018 flu season:


The New Tax Reform Bill: Details and Current Status

On November 16, 2017, a bill that House Republicans claim would reduce taxes on corporations and individuals was passed in the US House of Representatives. It passed with 227 congressmen voting for it, and 205 against.

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee has cleared the Senate version of the bill. Republicans from both houses endeavor to finish a joint tax reform proposal by the end of this year.

House and Senate Republicans aim to present a tax bill to President Donald Trump by Christmas. One of the President’s promises during the elections was to cut taxes, and he went to Capitol Hill to rally support for the bill before voting started.

The reform plan that passed in the House of Representatives would permanently reduce corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 20 percent.  There are also amendments aimed to allow businesses to become more competitive, and it lowers the number of individual tax brackets from seven to four.

The bill introduces changes to certain tax breaks, such as restricting mortgage interest deductions, local and state deductions, almost doubling standard deductions as well as removing the personal exemption.

For more information on the bill passed on November 16, please see or for more information about the Senate bill see

The Senate version revokes the mandate for Americans to obtain health care insurance, which is one of the requirements of Obamacare.

Senate Democrats are opposed to the bill. In a statement, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA) said, “In order to finance tax cuts for the super-rich and big corporations, this proposal from Republicans in Washington would add $1.5 trillion to our deficit, which could lead to cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Some Senate Republicans have also expressed concerns about the proposed bill, foreseeing that deficits in the budget due to decreased taxes, individual tax cuts, and the revocation of one aspect of Obamacare could be obstacles to tax reform.

The CBO estimates that the Republican’s tax reform plan would cause the US national debt, currently at $20 trillion, to increase by $1.5 trillion over a period of ten years. This is causing some GOP legislators some worry about the future of America’s budget. For more information:

In a tweet, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said, “I remain concerned over how the current tax reform proposals will grow the already staggering national debt by opting for short-term fixes while ignoring long-term problems for taxpayers and the economy. We must achieve real tax reform crafted in a fiscally responsible manner.”

If the bill passes in the Senate, the two houses will come together to draft a joint proposal.  The two chambers’ plans significantly differ when it comes to local and state tax deductions.

The version of the Senate completely removes these deductions. This may cause some House Republicans to withdraw their support since their version allows property tax deductions of up to $10,000.

Republican Congressman Dan Donovan (NY) also said, “The tax reform details as presented today will hurt, not help middle-class families in New York. We need a bill that doesn’t divide and penalize some Americans just because of their zip code..… People are counting on us; we have to get this right.”

This week, Republican leaders in the Senate are planning on bringing their tax reform bill to a vote at the Senate, possibly on Thursday, November 30.

“Back in D.C., big week for Tax Cuts and many other things of great importance to our Country.  Senate Republicans will hopefully come through for all of us. The Tax Cut Bill is getting better and better. The end result will be great for ALL!” President Trump tweeted on Sunday night, November 26.

Senate Republicans need to garner 50 votes from their party in order for the bill to pass. According to Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barasso (R-WY) said President Trump will be attending the GOP’s luncheon on Tuesday, November 28, and will be talking about the tax reform bill, “We look forward to welcoming President Trump to the Senate again next Tuesday. This is a historic opportunity for our conference and the president to build on our momentum to give Americans the tax relief they’ve been waiting for.”






President Trump’s Executive Order on Healthcare

Day one Donald J. Trump, the 45th President, signed his first executive order on January 20, 2017 to roll back certain aspects of the existing Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, a national health care initiative. The executive order aims at ‘minimising the economic burden’ of the Obamacare law ‘pending its repeal’, which Mr. Trump vowed during his campaign trail.

The order says “It is the policy of my administration to seek the prompt repeal” of the law. The Trump administration is preparing to replace it with an effective plan that they say would allow ‘insurance for all’.

The order on the Affordable Care Act directs departments and agencies related to the healthcare and health insurance sector to ease the burden of Obamacare during the period of transition of its repeal and replacement.

The administration has said they are working at creating a freer and more open healthcare market in the country. To achieve the goal, they ordered federal departments and agencies to take actions consistent with law to reduce the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the ACA and gives the states with more flexibility and control to his effect.

By signing the executive order on day one in the White House, Mr. Trump takes actions to dismantle the healthcare law that covers some 20 million Americans and was the signature healthcare program of his predecessor President Barack Obama.

Section 2 of the Executive order instructs the secretary of HHS (Health and Human Services) to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” parts of the law that would place a fiscal or regulatory burden on states, individuals or health-care providers.

The President with his team decided to replace and repeal the Obamacare laws with new a new healthcare system that will allow patients to buy health insurance across state lines using health savings accounts and have interstate health insurance sales and high-risk pools at the state level to take care of people who have pre-existing conditions.

The executive order is not going to affect Medicare, the federal healthcare insurance program for older people at 65 years or above and people with disabilities. Considering the time it will take Republicans to fashion a replacement, the federal and state insurance exchanges are likely to function at least through 2018.

The Affordable Care Act marketplaces are still active before open enrollment ends Jan. 31 for 2017 coverage. Advocates for the ACA will be interested in seeing how many companies and individuals decide to take part this year and next.

The new administration says features found in Obamacare, like the provision that continues young adults’ coverage under their parents’ insurance, will not be affected.

For more information see the executive order here: “Executive Order Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal”

Cancer Death Rate Drops by a Quarter from 1991 High

American Cancer Society, Jan, 9, 2017, Cancer Statistics 2017, an annual report by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and published in CA: Cancer Journal for Clinicians shows that there has been a consistent decline in the number of people dying from cancer since 1991. In 1991, 215.1 per 100,000 of the population succumbed to cancer, whereas in 2014 161.2 per 100,000 passed on. This represents a 25% drop from the 1991 figures, which have been the highest figures yet recorded. The annual report that includes metrics such as cancer incidence, death rate, and survival used data up to 2014, which is the last year with up to date data ready for analysis.

A 25% drop in cancer related deaths over two decades means that 2.1 million fewer deaths have been reported between 1991 and 2014. In the report, Otis W. Brawley, M.D, FACP, the chief medical officer of ACS remarked, “The continuing drops in the cancer death rate are a powerful sign of the potential we have to reduce cancer’s deadly toll.” He went on, “Continuing that success will require more clinical and basic research to improve early detection and treatment, as well as creative new strategies to increase healthy behaviors nationwide. Finally, we need to consistently apply existing knowledge in cancer control across all segments of the population, particularly to disadvantaged groups.

The decline in death rates has been attributed to cutting down on smoking and the improvement of early detection and therapeutic interventions over the years. There have been steady reductions in cancer related deaths in the most common sites for cancer occurrence in the human body: the lung, breast, prostate and colorectal (colon and rectum). Cancer related deaths associated with the lung decreased by 43% (1990-2014) in males and 17% (2002-2014) in women. There was a 38% reduction in deaths from breast cancer from 1989 to 2014 and a 51% reduction in Prostate and Colorectal cancers (1993 to 2014 for prostate cancer, 1976 to 2014 for colorectal cancer).

The report also highlighted the fact that there are gender and racial differences in cancer incidence and cancer related deaths. For all the four common sites, the incidence rate for cancer is 20% higher in men, while the mortality rate is 40% higher in males. There are racial differences in cancer related deaths, with blacks and Hispanics suffering more than whites. The good news is that the excess risk of death from cancer in black men has gone down by 26% points from 47% in 1990 to 21% in 2014. The difference between white and black women went down 7% points from 20% in 1998 to 13% in 2014.

In the report, 2017 is estimated to have 1,688,780 new cancer cased and 600,290 cancer related deaths in the United States. It has also shown that the overall cancer incidence rate has gone down by 2% every year in men while remaining static for women in the last ten years. The cancer death rate has declined by 1.5% every year for both genders.