Wednesday, April 26, 2017

ER Greed--Profiting Off the Vulnerable

Note:  Please attend the upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, April 25th, 10 a.m., 981 H St., Crescent City, to share your views and hear about the Joint Resolution on healthcare costs
The $2,054 ER Doctor Bill

Anyone treated at the Sutter Coast Hospital Emergency Room may find their doctor bill hurts more than their injury.  Pateints are being charged over $2,000 for visits described as lasting under 10 minutes.  The ER doctor bills are over 10 times the amount allowed by Blue Cross or Medicare, and do not include Sutter's charges, which are often an additional several thousand dollars.  Adding to the injury, the ER doctors are "out of network" for most local insurance plans, which means you must pay the outrageous charges until your separate, out of network deductible, is met. 
How did such profiteering come to Crescent City?  By way of an exclusive contract between Sutter Coast Hospital (a locally owned "non-profit" corporation) and EmCare Holdings, Inc. (a national "for-profit" corporation). 
EmCare would not be here if not for our local hospital Board of Directors, which approved the contract.  In fairness, the hospital Board may have been unaware of EmCare's conduct when Sutter Health recommended EmCare.  As a former hospital Board member, I know the deceptive ways of Sutter Health executives and attorneys.  In the Board room, Sutter's leaders would frequently plead poverty while neglecting to mention the $4 billion in the Sutter Health Treasury, or their own multimillion dollar salaries.  For example, Sutter Regional President Martin Brotman (the doctor/executive who convinced our hospital Board to give the hospital to Sutter Health for nothing in return), collected a tidy $4.2 million annual salary from Sutter Health.

I have many examples of Sutter Health's deception--more than 100 documents, collected during my years on the hospital Board, containing false statements by Sutter Health executives as they attempted to take hospital ownership and triple the charges on Medicare patients. During that time, Sutter Coast was operating illegally, without a CFO, so we as a Board had no one to turn to with our financial questions. Fortunately, our community saw through the deception, forcing Sutter Health executives like CEO Pat Fry (the six million dollar per year man) and Regional President Mike Cohill to set aside the decisions they had made for our community.

Whether or not the Sutter Coast Board knew of EmCare's ways, Sutter Health executives certainly did know.  Both hospital CEO Mitch Hanna and hospital administrator Carlos Priestly have acknowledged, during recorded public meetings, that they knew of EmCare's out of network billing status.  Unfortunately, the Sutter executives did not inform the ER patients about EmCare.  Patients learned when their bills arrived. 

The truth about EmCare is spreading.  This Tuesday, April 25th, the County Board of Supervisors will discuss a resolution addressing healthcare costs (see above).  Drafted by a committee of city and county elected officials, the Joint Resolution asks the Sutter Coast Board to terminate its contract with EmCare, in addition to releasing hospital meeting records and financial statements for public review.  Sutter Health and its affiliate "charitable" corporations operate in secret, rendering unverifiable their claims of providing charitable care.  Should not the privilege of tax exemption confer the obligation of public disclosure?

Supported by people of all ages, backgrounds, and political affiliations, our effort to end healthcare overcharges is working.  To share your ideas, receive this newsletter, or obtain a confidential review of your hospital bill, contact me at or call (707) 465-1126

We don't have Sutter's advertising budget, attorneys, public relations teams, consultants, lobbyists, or billions in cash.  But we do have the truth.  I look forward to hearing from you.
Gregory J. Duncan, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Orthopedic Surgery

(Disclaimer: This article represents my views as a physician and not my roles as Chief of Surgery at Sutter Coast Hospital or Director of the Del Norte Healthcare District.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Healthcare, Jobs, and Profiteers

Tired of Overpriced Healthcare?  Join Us.
If you want quality, affordable healthcare, please read on. You will learn how Sutter Health profiteers are driving up your co-pays, deductibles, premiums, and out of pocket maximums--all while operating as a tax exempt charity.  Together, we can end the injustice.
Special Note:  U.S. Congressman Jared Huffman will be in Crescent City this Monday, April 10, 5:15 p.m. at Crescent Elk Auditorium, 994 G St., Crescent City
Please join me to share your thoughts on healthcare with Rep. Jared Huffman  
Healthcare, Jobs, and Profiteers  
by Gregory Duncan, M.D.  

Thanks to the Del Norte Triplicate, where the following article was originally published:  Click here to read Triplicate article              
Healthcare costs are out of control.  In turn, insurance premiums have skyrocketed.  Businesses are paying higher workers' compensation rates.  As employment costs rise, wage growth stalls and jobs are outsourced.  Patients face high deductibles and more "out of pocket" fees.      
Rather than addressing the problem (costs), healthcare legislation has simply shifted the costs onto others (cost shifting).  Insurance companies pass the cost onto employers and workers.  Public health programs shift the cost onto taxpayers and increase the national debt. 
Healthcare cost shifting is rampant in Del Norte County.  Sutter Coast is the only hospital in the county, and is using its monopoly to charge high prices.  As a former hospital Board member, I can report that Sutter's fee increases were so stealthy, I was initially unaware of the pattern.  But thanks to patients who provided their hospital bills, I discovered Sutter Coast Hospital is charging up to ten times more than other local providers for identical tests, and thousands of dollars more for imaging studies and procedures (as compared to neighboring hospitals).
How is Sutter able to charge high fees?  Market power.  Sutter's statewide takeover of community owned hospitals provided the market power needed to raise prices on insurers, union trust funds, government, and individuals.  At the same time, Sutter Health claims a charitable tax exemption, allowing it to escape millions in taxes locally, and billions statewide. It's a great business model--for Sutter executives and attorneys.  During my two years on the Sutter Coast Board, Sutter Health reported profits exceeding $1 billion. 
Executive pay at Sutter Health also rose--former CEO Pat Fry saw his multimillion dollar salary triple during Sutter Health's statewide hospital takeover.  Mr. Fry's retirement year salary was $7.5 million, not including fringe benefits, such as paid membership to a "social/business club," and his hiring family members for lucrative jobs at Sutter Health.  Now you know where your Sutter payments go--multimillion dollar salaries, nepotism, and "We Plus You" signs across California.
Sutter's Board meetings are closed to the public.  Sutter Health executives have refused official record requests from our County Supervisors and City Council.  Tax law requires Sutter to operate exclusively for charitable purposes.  I ask readers:  Is Sutter operating exclusively for charitable purposes?  Should tax exempt charities be permitted to operate in secret?
The latest chapter in high fees at Sutter Coast Hospital involves a corporation called EmCare.  Under an exclusive contract provided by Sutter Coast, EmCare is operating "out of network" (meaning the ER doctors are not preferred providers for most local insurance plans) and is charging thousands of dollars for a single doctor visit.  For a high complexity visit, Medicare allows $176.  For the same service, EmCare charges $2,054.  EmCare's "out of network" status means its inflated fees are applied to your separate, out of network deductible (which means you must pay them).  Sutter Health executives are aware of EmCare's out of network status, but are not notifying patients.  This month, I asked Sutter Coast to cancel its contract with EmCare.
Sutter Coast CEO Mitch Hanna publicly stated my effort is a "witch hunt." I understand Mr. Hanna's need to point fingers and change the subject.  Sutter Health is enriching him and his fellow executives.  Lacking any justification for Sutter's high prices, Mr. Hanna resorts to name calling.  Expect more name calling from healthcare profiteers as harm to patients is exposed.
Overpriced healthcare hurts us all, which is why so many joined our successful effort to stop Sutter from tripling out of pocket charges on Medicare patients.  Recall the hospital pickets and Town Hall meetings where Republican, Democrat, and Tea Party members stood shoulder to shoulder in support of stopping Sutter Health executives from enacting their plans on our community. Your support forced a multibillion dollar corporation to change course. Statewide, union leaders and businesses are supporting our effort.
If you are tired of overpriced healthcare, please join us.  To receive a confidential review of your hospital bill, or share your ideas, contact me at or call (707) 465-1126.
Please join our bipartisan, grassroots effort for affordable healthcare.  I thank everyone who put me in office, and I look forward to hearing from you.
(Disclaimer: This article represents my views as a physician and not my roles as Chief of Surgery at Sutter Coast Hospital or Director of the Del Norte Healthcare District.)
Gregory Duncan, M.D.