Monday, October 18, 2010

Hospital chain doing just fine

Hope the San Francisco Board of Supervisors understands what kind of company is asking them to approve a new midtown hospital while it decimates St. Lukes Hospital in the underserved south of the city. Kaiser Health News looked into which California hospitals had the highest and most rapidly rising costs. Looks like Sutter Health, doing business as California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, wins this dubious prize.

Hospital rates in the Bay Area now are among California’s most expensive, propelled upward by prominent hospitals and networks, including Sutter Health, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and John Muir Health, according to private and government data.

Statewide, hospital prices have been rising rapidly for years. For privately insured patients, the cost of a stay has increased annually by an average of 8.5 percent over the past five years, while the cost of an outpatient visit has grown by 9.6 percent a year, state records reveal. ...

... Sutter Health is California’s priciest large hospital system. An average day’s worth of care cost 37 percent more than the state average, even more than the University of California hospitals, which see more of the sickest patients. Catholic Healthcare West, another nonprofit chain that is one of Sutter’s main competitors in many Northern California markets, was paid 4 percent below the state average.

..."Sutter basically has a stranglehold on Northern California," says Schlaegel. "They are strategically situated, both for hospitals and medical groups. They know purchasers need them. When you are strategically located, you can say ‘this is our price and you can pay it.'"Sutter officials dispute their rates are unfair or that they have excessive negotiating power. ...

Now why would city officials allow this health profiteer to wrap its tentacles ever more tightly around San Franciscans' necks? At the very least, they should bargain to force the Sutter monster to keep St. Lukes open as a charity hospital. Charging $2700 more than the state average for a day's care, Sutter is making plenty enough profits already.

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