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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

Unions demand transparent pricing and affordable hospitals


DC 37, along with other unions part of the Labor Strong Coalition, rallied outside New York Presbyterian Hospital on Feb. 7 to demand a seat at the price-setting table with the city’s top private hospitals to end skyrocketing hospital pricing.

New York’s top five for-profit hospitals—New York Presbyterian, Northwell Health, Montefiore Medical Center, Mount Sinai Health System, and NYU Langone—are driving up hospital costs by charging between 302% to 900% more than the Medicare rate paid for medical procedures and getting away with the unscrupulous practice.

“We are demanding full transparency from these wealthiest private hospital systems. We want a seat at the table and a fair shake on pricing,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. “We are putting pressure on these private hospitals to lower their excessive, out-of-control pricing and to bring their rates more in line with Medicare reimbursement rates.”

DC 37, 32 BJ, and the Hotel Trades Council brought more than 5,000 petitions signed by working-class New Yorkers calling on the hospitals’ CEOs to stop their price-gouging practices. While peacefully rallying outside the hospital with the support of many elected officials and health care advocates, union activists attempted to deliver the 5,000 Labor Strong petitions to New York Presbyterian Hospital executives. However, they were turned away and escorted by security from the hospital.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inequalities in health care and the exorbitant pricing New Yorkers and safety net services like Medicare incur to pay for hospital care.”

“Unions will not stand for this blatant disregard for working New Yorkers. When we combine all our union members and their families, our voice is a million strong,” Garrido said. “These excessive costs are unconscionable and may force union health and security funds to restrict what hospital facilities members can utilize in the future.”

Health care costs in New York City are among the highest in the nation. A recent report by the 32BJ SEIU Health Fund revealed a routine outpatient hospital procedure like a colonoscopy cost that union an average of $9,426 in 2018 and 2019 at New York–Presbyterian’s Columbia University Medical Center – nine times the Medicare rate of only $1,021 for the same procedure.

These health care costs add up and pose a formidable threat to all unions’ health and security funds.

Garrido said he estimates that this type of overcharging has taken an estimated $2 billion from the city—money that could have been used to hire more public workers to perform necessary jobs and prevent layoffs.

“Hospital overcharging hits unionized workers’ pockets one way or another and leaves less money that could be allocated for workers’ wage increases,” Garrido said. “We need to stop the hospitals from taking from the 99% to treat the 1%.”

Union leaders point to a rigged hospital pricing system where the major private hospital systems get away with structuring their contracts with third-party administrators to their advantage by tightly controlling which hospitals are included in an insurance provider’s network and prohibiting the exclusion of hospitals with out-of-control pricing. While their tactics do not technically constitute a monopoly, the lack of competition has the same effect on pricing. In addition, these hospitals are legally obligated to report how they arrive at their set costs but circumvent the regulations.

The Labor Strong Coalition of unions agree that if private hospitals are allowed to continue as bad actors with endless overpricing and no oversight or transparency, unions’ health benefit funds will struggle to remain sustainable.

“It’s time for New York to enforce strict hospital monitoring for transparency,” Garrido said. “We call on the CEOs of the top five New York City private hospitals to give unions a seat at the table when it comes to setting rates and to stop hiding behind a veil of secrecy.

“We need transparency, good faith pricing in line with established Medicare rates, and a realization that we need to work together toward a health care system that is available for all New Yorkers, and not just those who live on the Upper East Side,” Garrido said.