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.

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