[Feb. 6, 2014] FRESNO, Calif. – At Clovis Community Medical Center they charge $33 for one nicotine patch, while at a Walgreens down the street it costs $2.78. The hospital also charges $17.32 for a single aspirin, which is 270 times the price found on Amazon.com.
Those are just some of the high prices California healthcare workers revealed today as they launched a signature gathering campaign to qualify a statewide ballot initiative that ends overpricing by hospitals. The measure would reduce hospital prices in California by at least $3 billion a year.
“Hospitals in Fresno County and the surrounding areas say their mission is to provide healthcare to the community, but instead they are price gouging the public,” said Dave Regan, President of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW). “Our ballot initiative will put a stop to it and help make healthcare more affordable.”
Approximately 505,000 signatures of registered California voters are needed to qualify the initiative for the November 2014 ballot; signatures must be submitted in mid-April.
In addition to high prices on basic products, like over-the-counter pain medication, some hospitals are charging far above the state average for certain medical procedures. According to state reports, Madera Community Hospital charges $1,116 for a breast cancer screening – which is more than three times the state average of $320. Mercy Medical Center in Merced charges $1,480 for a chest X-ray, while the state average is only $485.
“It’s depressing getting such a huge bill and not knowing how you’re going to pay for it,” said Elia Maldonado, a Fresno resident who was uninsured in 2012 when she was treated for a gallstone at Clovis Community Medical Center and received a bill for almost $24,000. “When I saw the bill, my blood pressure nearly went through the roof. I asked the hospital if I could pay $60 a month, but they said no and took me to collections instead.”
The statewide ballot initiative, the Fair Healthcare Pricing Act of 2014, prohibits hospitals from charging more than 25 percent above the actual cost of providing patient care. On average, California hospitals charge 320 percent more than the actual cost of providing care in their facilities. The two hospitals that charge the most in Fresno County and the surrounding area are St. Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, which marks up prices 338 percent, and Adventist Medical Center in Hanford, which marks up prices 320 percent.
According to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, California hospitals subject to this ballot initiative charged $233.8 billion in 2012 – even though their operating expenses were only $54.5 billion. Locally, Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno billed $2.8 billion for operating expenses of $807 million, and St. Agnes Medical Center in Fresno charged $1.7 billion for expenses totaling $400 million.
The ballot measure addresses the root cause of skyrocketing premiums in California. Between 2002 and 2013, health insurance premiums in California increased 170 percent, which is more than five times the rate of inflation during that period.
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Paid for by Yes for a Healthy California, sponsored and major funding by Service Employees International Union, United Health Care Workers West. Additional major funding by State Council of Service Employees Issues Committee.