A single Advil tablet costs around 8¢ at your local pharmacy, so would you be willing to pay $21 for one at a hospital? You might not have a choice if you’re in the hospital and $21 is the going-rate. Such extreme price mark-ups are evidence of “hospital price gouging,” according to union health care workers who are trying to stop it.
“We’ve learned that they charge 21 dollars for a single Advil – not the bottle, but a single Advil,” said Elizabeth Brennan, spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU.) Brennan maintains that such lofty prices are why health care costs are as high as they are. In order to stop the alleged unfair practices, union health care workers in Southern California are collecting signatures for two initiatives they hope to get on this Fall’s ballot. The first initiative would prohibit hospitals from charging patients more than 25 percent above the actual cost of services and the second initiative would require non-profit hospitals to provide a pre-determined minimum amount of “charity care” for needy patients. Jim Lott, spokesman for the Hospital Association of Southern California, said the SEIU has identified a very real problem, but that limiting hospitals’ ability to charge is the wrong solution. Lott maintains that hospital costs are raised because of low payments received from customers who use Medicare and Medi-CAL and that the situation could be resolved if the government covered more.
Are hospitals only out for profit or are they simply doing what’s necessary to spread the costs of California’s underinsured? How restricted, if at all, should hospitals be when it comes setting prices for services?
Dave Regan, president, Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers West
James Lott, spokesman, Hospital Association of Southern California