WATSONVILLE — Efforts to limit charges at Watsonville Community Hospital (WCH) have moved forward, and Watsonville residents will soon see signature gatherers trying to garner support for the ballot measure.
The so-called Watsonville Accountable and Affordable Health Care Initiative was introduced in October by a group of Watsonville healthcare workers.
Organizers will hold a press conference on Saturday to announce the beginning of the signature-gathering phase. Watsonville Mayor Oscar Rios, Vice Mayor Lowell Hurst and City Councilman Felipe Hernandez will also attend.
Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers, the union that supports hospital workers, is leading the efforts.
Surgical tech Chris Gil said the initiative was created to rein in what supporters say is overcharging by the hospital.
According to Gil, WCH charges on average about 40 percent more than Dominican Hospital does for procedures.
Patients in Watsonville pay about $45,000 for a routine baby delivery, compared to a little more than $27,000 at Dominican, according to the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
That agency also reports that treatment for a kidney infection at WCH costs more than $80,000, and about $54,000 at Dominican.
Gil also argued that the hospital’s profits go to Brentwood, Tenn.-based Quorum Health, which owns the Watsonville hospital.
Organizers must now collect 1,791 signatures for the measure to qualify for the Nov. 6, 2018 election.
It would then require a simple majority to pass.
If voters approve it, WCH would not be able to charge more than 15 percent over what is considered the “reasonable cost of direct patient care.”
In the initiative, “reasonable” is defined as the costs directly associated with operating a medical facility, and providing care to patients.
The initiative would also require the hospital to refund patients who are charged over that amount, and to keep track of all its patient charges.
The rules would also stack a 5 percent fine on the rebates that are owed to 50 or fewer people, and 10 percent if owed to more than 50.
Watsonville Community Hospital officials did not immediately respond to a call for comment.
In a prepared statement in October, however, WCH spokeswoman Cindy Weigelt said the corporation is “profoundly disappointed” by the initiative.
In the statement, hospital officials suggest that the action is a “labor negotiation tactic” designed “to manipulate on-going labor negotiations in the union’s favor.”
In an Oct. 18 letter to Watsonville City Attorney Alan Smith, San Francisco attorney F. Curt Kirschner expressed concern about the constitutionality of the proposed regulations.
In the letter, Kirschner suggested that following the local ordinance could put WCH at odds with state and federal health care regulations. In addition, the initiative imposes financial restrictions without regard to preexisting contracts between the hospital and its providers, Kirschner said.
To read the initiative, visit tinyurl.com/ycb7swwd.