Sup. Hillary Ronen popped up on 60 Minutes Sunday night to proclaim “We are getting screwed” over Sutter Health’s alleged monopoly and price-gouging practices.
The novelty of seeing a sitting member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors appear on Sunday night’s episode of 60 Minutes will quickly pass, and give you more a feeling of hair-on-fire rage, in the segment’s examination of Sutter Health’s business practices and how they’re causing California health care costs to skyrocket.
The report from Lesley Stahl — last seen having Trump storm out of his interview with her — uncovers a myriad of outrages. Among them, it costs twice as much to have a baby in Northern California than in Southern California, that Sutter Health has bought up all the hospitals in some regions in order to control prices, and they actively block patients from being able to visit more affordable hospitals. But perhaps the most infuriating revelation came in Ronen’s segment, that as a “not-for-profit company,” Sutter Health pays no taxes on their $13 billion in annual revenue.
“Sutter avoids tens of millions of dollars a year in local property taxes. And at one hospital alone they're avoiding $20 million a year,” Ronen said on the program. “At any way you look at it, any path you look, we are getting screwed.”
“Sutter won’t allow us to see how much they charge for their services. It’s unbelievable,” says San Fran Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “And so we can’t comparison shop. [T]hey keep naming their price, and I feel like I’m handcuffed to do anything about it.” https://t.co/LFzEw9zT9Q pic.twitter.com/9ZvtfWx7gG— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) December 14, 2020
The gist of the arguments against Sutter Health in the segment are that they’ve bought up so many hospitals that they’re able to set prices at unrealistic levels, but with no pushback, and then as the only healthcare option, were forcing cities and large companies into far larger plans than they needed. Sutter Health did respond in a statement to CBS that they were delivering “high-quality, affordable care" and "healthier patient outcomes at a lower total cost of care,” though the substance of the 60 Minutes reporting showed pretty much the opposite of that.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who's just been nominated to the Biden administration, did just squeeze a $575 million settlement out of Sutter Health for these practices (it is waiting on a judge’s approval), though they do not have to admit wrongdoing, or even change any of these practices.
People fairly wondered why president-elect Joe Biden is tapping Becerra for Secretary of Health and Human Services, considering his lack of healthcare background. His watchdog approach to big corporate hospital chains may provide the answer to that, though we’d rather see real structural change than ass-covering legal settlements.
Screenshot: 60 Minutes, CBS