One of the state’s most powerful health care unions has begun gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would cap how much hospitals can charge for services.
United Healthcare Workers West wants to put an initiative on the November ballot that would prohibit hospitals from charging patients more than 25 percent above the actual cost of providing care.
"The truth is, the average hospital markup in the state of California today is 320 percent above the cost of actually providing care," Dave Regan, the union's president, said at the official kickoff of signature gathering.
He said the resulting bills have ruined the finances of many working Californians.
The union pursued a similar measure in 2012, but it backed off after the California Hospital Association agreed to work with the union to address pricing and other issues.
Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokeswoman for the CHA, said the union’s new effort is not really about hospital prices.
"This is about union members," she said.
She said the union is upset that it hasn’t organized more hospital workers, something it hoped would come out of the earlier deal. Union president Regan denied that claim, and insisted that his group’s effort is about lowering prices for consumers.
Hospital pricing is complicated, and it varies widely. Health economists say insurance companies, and patients for that matter, rarely pay full sticker price for a hospital’s services. But Regan said those prices are still reflected in the cost of insurance, not to mention how they can ruin the lives of the uninsured.
The union listed four hospitals run by Providence Health & Services, Southern California, as among the top 17 highest priced hospitals in L.A. County. Providence Health & Services said in a statement that many factors go into its pricing, including salaries, equipment and the rates at which it gets reimbursed from insurance companies and the government.
Providence hospitals "are within market range for the level of services we provide," it added.