FAIRFIELD — The health care workers union took direct aim this week at NorthBay Healthcare in one of a series of ads contending it and several other hospitals are grossly overcharging for medical products and paying their CEOs an exorbitant salary.
The ads, which will air in Solano County and other cable TV markets, are part of the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West’s efforts to get two measures on the state ballot, the Fair Healthcare Pricing Act of 2014 and the Charitable Hospital Executive Compensation Act of 2014.
In NorthBay’s case, the union uses figures it took from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development to contend that NorthBay charges 534 percent above its actual costs while paying its CEO $593,000 a year. It specifically states that the hospital charges $27 for an aspirin and $100 for hydrocortisone ointment.
The Fair Healthcare Pricing Act, if passed, would prohibit hospitals from charging more than 25 percent above the actual cost of providing patient care while the Hospital Executive Compensation Act would prohibit nonprofit hospital executives from making more than $450,000 a year in compensation.
NorthBay representatives immediately fired back, contending the ads are “dishonest and deceptive” and saying that the state source the union pulled its figures from was an antiquated system of list prices.
“No one pays $27 for an aspirin or $100 for ointment,” NorthBay Vice President of Public Affairs Steve Huddleston said Tuesday. “Figures they purport to be real are nothing but numbers on a master billing database that has no relation to reality.”
Dave Regan, SEIU-UHW’s president, said in the release targeting NorthBay that he felt that once Solano County residents saw the ads they will “agree that nonprofit hospitals shouldn’t be allowed to pay their CEOs more than half a million dollars and charge ridiculous prices for the most basic services.”
With the exception of changing the name of the hospital and the county, it was the same comment Regan gave in releases sent to media outlets in Ventura County and Alameda County where the union targeted ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton and Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura.
The union contends that these hospitals also similarly overcharge for medical care and overpay their CEOs.
Regan said the hospitals lost sight of their responsibility to the community and “we plan to put them back on track by passing these ballot measures.”
Huddleston said the measures are flawed and spurious. He said the measures would not improve health care, but “impose arbitrary price caps on targeted hospitals, but exempt many other hospitals which could set their charges without any limits.”
Passing the measures would cost NorthBay an estimated $35 million, which equals the payroll for 300 of its 2,000 employees.
The prices cited from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development are numbers that each hospital calls its charge master, Huddleston said. The real prices patients are charged is determined by what an insurance company negotiates with a particular hospital, what the government decides to pay for people on Medicare and Medicaid, or what a patient can afford to pay, Huddleston said.
“We can tell them up front what a hospital stay would cost, given his or her health insurance benefits,” Huddleston said.
NorthBay’s prices are above average, but that is because “we serve the community at large,” with NorthBay charging insurance plans more to make up for losses the hospital incurs treating those who can’t pay, he said.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.