$40 for Carmex? Healthcare workers reveal Sacramento hospitals’ most outrageous prices

[Feb. 20, 2014] SACRAMENTO, Calif. – At Memorial Hospital they charge almost $40 for Carmex lip ointment, while at Walgreens it costs $1.35. At Amador Hospital in Jackson, they charge $18.21 for a single Ibuprofen, which is 403 times the price found on Amazon.com.

Those are just some of the high prices California healthcare workers revealed today at a news conference outside the California Hospital Association as they launched a signature gathering campaign to qualify a statewide ballot initiative that will end overpricing by hospitals. The measure would reduce hospital prices in California by at least $3.4 billion a year.

“Over the last two years, we’ve called on hospitals in California to lower their costs but they’ve shown little progress in making healthcare affordable,” said Dave Regan, President of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW). “The days of charging $18 for a single aspirin and $230 for crutches have got to end, and we’re confident Californians will agree with us when this initiative comes before voters in the fall.”

Approximately 560,000 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 Sacramento hospitals are charging far above the state average for certain medical procedures. According to state reports, Roseville Medical Center charges $35,931 on average to treat someone for alcohol or drug abuse versus the state average of $20,537. Mercy Hospital in Folsom charges almost $96,000 on average for major joint replacement while the same procedure at San Joaquin General Hospital is just over $47,000.

“When I received my bill, I thought something must have been wrong because I figured it would be big but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be $32,000,” said Jeff Kortan, a Citrus Heights resident who suffered a concussion in 2012 and was treated for 45 minutes at Mercy San Juan Hospital. These health charges are so inflated and someone has to stand up to this hospital.”

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.

Support for – and awareness of – the ballot measure is building. Eleven state legislators recently endorsed the initiative, including Sens. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Mark Leno (D-San Francisco); and Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara).

Almost 500 paid signature gatherers are fanning out across the state asking voters to qualify the measure for the November 2014 ballot, and television and radio ads have been airing in Sacramento over the last two weeks.

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.

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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.

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