February 11, 2014:
SEIU’s Oakland-based United Healthcare Workers West local brought its hospital-bashing ballot measure campaign to downtown San Francisco on Tuesday, blasting local hospitals like California Pacific Medical Center, John Muir Health and Saint Francis Memorial Hospital for high prices.
Examples include charging $18 for a single Ibuprofen tablet or ten times the cost of a pair of crutches.
The 150,000-member union is seeking to qualify two ballot initiatives for the November statewide ballot, one to limit hospital CEOs’ compensation to $450,000 and another, the Fair Healthcare Pricing Act of 2014, that would prohibit hospitals from charging more than 25 percent more than the “actual cost of care.”
Nearly 500 paid signature gatherers are involved in the Fair Pricing Act’s campaign, the union said in a Feb. 11 statement.
The press conference featured several patients and workers with stories of over-the-top prices at local medical centers, but the goal clearly was to get on local airwaves to build momentum for signature gathering.
SEIU-UHW needs to gather about 800,000 or more signatures for each of the two initiatives in order to garner the 500,000+ valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot in November.
“We’re ahead of schedule and will absolutely have enough signatures to qualify by the end of March,” UHW President Dave Regan told me after the short press conference was over. Signatures need to be gathered by mid- to late April, he said
A small number of journalists showed up to watch and listen, but few passersby showed much interest in the gathering at Mechanics Monument Plaza, at the corner of Market and First streets in downtown San Francisco late Tuesday morning.
The aroma of a nearby joint gave the small conclave a distinctly San Francisco feel.
Steve Trossman, an SEIU spokesman, told me the union’s polling shows strong support for both measures, even when SEIU makes allowances for being outspent by more than 3 to 1 by opponents, including the California Hospital Association.
Regan predicted the campaign will be “very high visibility (because ) everyone has experiences with the high cost of hospital care.”
Ironically, however, a big part of the high cost of inpatient care is the cost of paying salaries and benefits for nurses, technicians and other staffers, many of whom — especially in Northern California and the Bay Area — are represented by labor unions such as SEIU-UHW, its rival the National Union of Healthcare Workers and the California Nurses Association.
A list of local hospitals ranked by “overpricing” provided by the union includes gross patient revenue figures and “operating expenses,” the bulk of which go to pay for workers in those facilities. Other “costs” included in the overpricing go to pay for the care of the uninsured and underinsured, although the union insists that is just a small part of the broader picture.
Still, California and Bay Area hospitals have their own perception problems.
Most are nonprofit, but the amount of charity care they provide is typically just a tiny fraction of overall revenues.
That’s one reason unions like SEIU think they may have a chance to jab management with a victory at the polls in November, adding to the perception of growing union power in the state and possibly luring large numbers of liberal voters to the polls.