Sometimes, the toughest moment in union-employer negotiations is facing the reality that an agreement is actually within reach. Allina Health met that moment several weeks ago, when we concluded that our nurses' union needed to preserve its current health care plans in order to reach a settlement.

In response, we offered the union a compromise that would keep the insurance plans that 95 percent of nurses currently use. We believe this proposal sets the table for a final settlement. But if you read the most recent press accounts, you might conclude that the union is struggling to accept Allina Health's "Yes" for an answer.

Health insurance coverage is becoming more expensive, which isn't breaking news for Minnesota employers or workers. At Allina Health, most employees choose between one of three core plans, the most popular of which received high marks in an independent analysis released by Minnesota Public Radio.

However, our nurses have their own insurance plans, which have little cost-sharing, contain few incentives for their members to use cost-effective care options and are quickly becoming more and more expensive.

Allina Health initially proposed for nurses to choose among our three core plans, just like almost all other employees, including physicians, paramedics, nursing assistants and executives. The union refused. So we offered a compromise that preserves the two most popular nurses' plans, if the union agrees that:

• Newly hired nurses use one of the three core Allina Health plans.

• Current nurses agree to take greater responsibility for paying the cost increases associated with their more expensive plans.

• Once a nurse-only plan is no longer viable (which would require an 80 percent drop in current enrollment), the plan would be discontinued.

This is truly a compromise — nurses get to keep their own most-used plans, but they must take more responsibility for cost increases. The core plans will remain an option for all nurses.

Allina Health nurses will vote on this proposal on Aug. 18, although union leadership opposes a settlement. If the nurses vote against the proposal, the union will be authorized to call a strike with no end date. This may be part of a national strategy to coordinate regional nurses' strikes, which would be an unfortunate turn of events when we are so close to a negotiated solution.

As in all public negotiations, the rhetoric is soaring as the day of the vote nears. Fortunately, independent parties have rejected much of the rhetoric. The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed union claims that its members were denied adequate information to negotiate health coverage, and the Minnesota Department of Health has not substantiated any complaints filed during the seven-day strike in June.

Oddly, the union is also claiming that too much money was spent on temporary nurses during the strike. Allina Health is fully committed to providing quality care to our patients, even when our permanent nurses walk off the job. If the union is concerned about the cost of employing temporary nurses, our solution is simple — union leadership should reach a compromise agreement with Allina Health so our nurses stay on the job.

Allina Health values our talented nurses. We agree that they help put the "care" in health care, and we are a better organization when our permanent nurses are on the job. But the needs of our patients must come first, and that requires us to seek fair and affordable, long-term solutions to our costly health insurance challenge.

We are hopeful that our nurses will vote to accept our proposal that preserves their most popular insurance plans. By compromising on a fair agreement, we can all focus on our most important job — providing great patient care.

Penny Wheeler is president and CEO of Allina Health.