Health & Medicine

California hospital pricing, pay initiatives abandoned as union strikes deal

Averting a costly ballot fight, a prominent health care labor union has agreed to pull a pair of measures that would limit how California hospitals price medical care and compensate their executives.

Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West dropped the effort after reaching what officials described as a sweeping labor agreement with the California Hospital Association, an organization that had been poised to battle the union over its ballot campaign. Officials from the two organizations described the agreement only in vague terms.

The union had decried wildly inflated hospital prices as a burden on the health care system, pointing to hefty charges for everything from medical procedures to bandages. The union also argued for caps on executive compensation at nonprofit hospitals.

All along, medical industry critics depicted the two-pronged campaign as a union ploy to put pressure on hospitals and win concessions for workers. Money had already started flowing for the ballot push, with SEIU reporting having raised $5.7 million through March of this year.

Now the two sides have found a compromise. The California Hospital Association and SEIU-UHW announced they struck a deal Monday night to enshrine a new labor agreement and to launch a $100 million campaign for changes to Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for the poor and indigent.

“We have continuously been striving to find a non-initiative solution,” C. Duane Dauner, president of the California Hospital Association, said in a conference call Tuesday morning.

In a deal that will run through the end of 2017, the two sides have agreed to what SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan called a “set of reciprocal commitments.” He offered no concrete details about what those commitments entail, saying only that they surpass what the National Labor Relations Act requires.

A centerpiece of the new relationship will involve deploying a $100 million joint advocacy fund in an attempt to address Medi-Cal issues, although the specific area of advocacy remains undecided. If a legislative or regulatory fix hasn’t yet emerged, Regan said, the effort could go to to the November 2016 ballot.