California healthcare advocates are launching a new campaign in order to highlight the negative effects of unchecked mergers in the healthcare system and the need for a legislative solution. The campaign kicked off with the unveiling of billboards across the state, and the launch of a new website www.protectcapatients.com.
Protect California Patients is a coalition of over 30 community, health care, labor, small business, reproductive justice, and social justice groups with a goal to address the rising costs and reduced access to services in health care that many Californians are experiencing.
According to a press release sent by Health Access California, “Research shows health care consolidation is one of the major drivers of increasing health care costs. As health systems grow, their relative size and market power allow them to charge whatever they can. CEOs make more money while patients suffer higher costs. In fact, Sacramento is one of the most expensive places to give birth because of health care consolidation in the area.”
The coalition is urging the state legislature to pass AB 1091 (Wood) which would expand existing oversight by the state’s Attorney General to ensure mergers are in the best interest of the public.
“When health systems and hospitals chains acquire other hospitals and medical groups without oversight, they also often cut services that are not considered profitable or are duplicative for the larger health system — but for patients, this can mean services are no longer available at their local hospital and they may have to travel further for care,” the press release stated. “In merger after merger, hospitals have proposed to cut off access to care for emergency rooms, labor and delivery services, reproductive health care, and services for LGBTQ patients.”
The Attorney General’s Department of Justice has been able to hold public hearings and put in place conditions to protect access to services, but only when it has had the authority.
The press release goes on to mention that another growing trend in the healthcare industry is the purchase of hospitals and health centers by religiously-affiliated health systems. These health systems often require the facilities that they purchase to adhere to their restrictions on the provision of reproductive services including contraception, abortion, miscarriage management, tubal ligation, and gender-affirming care.
This reduces access to vital care for California communities. One in six hospital beds in California is in a restrictive hospital where these services are not provided or are extremely limited.
“In health care, bigger isn’t always better. Hospitals are businesses and when they merge it often means cuts to services and rising costs for consumers,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition, and one of the conveners of Protect California Patients. “Hospital CEOs make deals in their private corporate boardrooms, but the public deserves a voice as well about these mergers that are so impactful to the health of the community. Extending the Attorney General’s oversight will protect California health consumers and preserve access to quality and affordable care.”
The campaign plans to continue its grassroots organizing and coalition efforts throughout the legislative session, supplemented with public engagement efforts including social media buys and digital advertising around the state.
“While for-profit healthcare corporations may argue that mergers lower costs and improve access to care, what we are seeing is the opposite. Without oversight, these mergers can have dire implications, especially for California’s rural residents who are being forced to travel longer distances for quality hospitals,” said Bryant Miramontes, campaign manager with Health Access California. “Concerned about higher costs and reduced services, a diverse coalition of organizations and community members have joined together to urge the California Legislature to ensure more oversight of health care mergers in our state by passing AB 1091.”