Lawsuit Charges Livermore City Council with Deliberate Bias Against Ballot Measure to Lower Healthcare Costs

[Aug. 6, 2018] OAKLAND, Calif. – The Livermore City Council deliberately created a biased and inaccurate ballot question for a November initiative that would mislead voters, going so far as to consult the ballot measure’s opponents before adopting the language, a lawsuit filed Aug. 2 in Alameda Superior Court alleges.

California election law requires that ballot questions “shall give a true and impartial statement of the purpose of the measure in such language that…shall neither be an argument, nor be likely to create prejudice, for or against the measure.” (Cal. Elec. Code § 9051.)

“In open session, Livermore Mayor John Marchand and members of the city council created ballot language designed to get the people of Livermore to vote against the ballot measure,” said Dave Regan, president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW). “This action shows a complete disrespect for democratic principles and Livermore voters.”

During the city council’s July 23 meeting and discussion about the language for the ballot question, Vice Mayor Bob Woerner made the council’s intention clear, going so far as to say, “I think we’ve got to [do] what we can do to defeat this, frankly,” and “We’ve got to make sure this doesn’t prevail.”

The suit, brought by Livermore resident Linda Guthrie, alleges: “Although the City Council placed the Initiative on the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot – as the Council was obligated to do – it rejected the neutral ballot question that was presented to it by the City Attorney and, instead, in an extraordinary exchange occurring at the City Council meeting, crafted a ballot question containing factual inaccuracies that are highly partisan against the Initiative, in direct contravention of the City Council’s legal obligation to present a true and impartial question to the voters.”

At one point, the mayor and city council consulted with two avowed opponents of the ballot measure – Scott Gregerson, CEO of Stanford Health Care-owned ValleyCare Hospital in Livermore, and Stanford’s attorney, Curt Kirschner, Jr. – asking Gregerson at one point, “Are we on the right track on this?”

The suit also lays out how the city council’s ballot question inaccurately portrays the initiative, saying that the city must bear costs that the ballot measure does not require, and falsely saying the city would have to develop regulations limiting how much healthcare providers can bill patients, which the measure also does not require.

Under the initiatives, healthcare facilities in those communities would be limited from charging patients more than 15 percent above the actual cost of providing care. If a healthcare facility exceeds 15 percent, it will be penalized and must refund the difference to the payer. Workers say the measure will make healthcare more affordable for patients, and encourage healthcare providers to invest more in improving staffing levels, purchasing new medical equipment and making facility improvements.

Stanford University Medical Center charges 264 percent more than the statewide average to treat a patient for alcohol or drug abuse, 141 percent more to treat a patient with chest pain and 120 percent more to treat a patient with kidney failure, according to data from the state of California.

Stanford Health Care is organized as a not for profit system, yet reported operating profits last year of $234 million and reserves of more than $700 million, raising further questions regarding why Stanford University Medical Center is charging some of the highest prices in the state.

More than 1,800 Stanford University Medical Center employees are members of SEIU-UHW.

Paid for by Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West Political Issues Committee, 560 Thomas L. Berkley Way, Oakland, CA 94612.

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