Culinary union members brave cold, long line for insurance sign up

Michael Lopardi

Photo: Video by ktnv.com

Culinary union members brave cold, long line for insurance sign up

CREATED Dec. 9, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Hundreds of culinary union members waited hours outside in the cold on Monday to sign up for health insurance and many weren't too happy.

The line snaked around the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 hall on Commerce Street. Many had no choice but to brave the cold.

"I'm out here at the culinary to get health insurance and it's like a ridiculous line," said Ivy Tutera.

For the first time, union members must show up at the union hall with verification documents to enroll in a health plan. The goal: cut down on fraud by making sure only those who are eligible actually receive benefits.

"It's ridiculous to be standing out here five hours and still can't get waited on," said Bernice Jordan.

Action News first started looking into the lines last week when enrollment began on Dec 3. But temperatures dropped over the weekend, with highs in the 30s, leaving some out in the cold.

"I think they should have more workers in there so we don't have to stand out here all day," Tutera said. "It's freezing."

The Culinary Health Fund, which administers the health insurance with the union, said it's making changes to ease the burden.

"I'm sorry the lines are long," said Kim Voss, senior director of network communications and advocacy at the health fund.

Voss said a warming tent with room for up to 500 people is in place and a second tent is scheduled to arrive Monday night. The union also has 14 outdoor heaters in operation, she said.

"We're very well aware that the lines are long and it's very unfortunate because our participants mean the world to us," Voss said.

With roughly 55,000 members, Voss said she knew there could be a wait. Action News asked if organizers did enough planning in preparation for the event.

"We did not expect the lines that we had today nor did I expect the subzero temperatures," Voss said. "We are doing the best we can do."

Voss said enrollment has opened early nearly every day and would open at least another half hour early on Tuesday.

While the enrollment period was originally set to end on Dec. 21, Voss said the health fund will now extend the end date into January, though an exact end date has not been set yet. The extension should allow the health fund to deal with the volume and allow people to show up on warmer days, she said.

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