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Queens lawmaker joins labor leaders to unveil bill cracking down on hospital pricing practices

Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz announces her support for legislation that would limit anti-competitive hospital contracting practices. (Photo courtesy of 32BJ)

After witnessing the COVID-19 pandemic devastate her neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights last year, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz joined her colleagues and union leaders Saturday, June 5, to unveil a groundbreaking new legislative proposal.

The Hospital Equity and Affordability Law (HEAL) is aimed at preventing anti-competitive hospital contracting practices and “out-of-control” pricing structures that hurt patients and act as a barrier to affordable care.

“HEAL guarantees that hard-working New Yorkers will no longer pay the price for opaque and bloated health care costs,” Cruz said. “We must do everything in our power to ensure a more equitable city, especially for those who were disproportionately impacted, both physically and financially, during the COVID-19 crisis.”

HEAL would seek to prohibit certain anti-competitive contracting practices in which hospitals may regularly engage, such as striking backroom deals with insurers to keep prices secret and preventing innovative programming that benefits patients. Hospital consolidations, increasingly common in major metropolitan areas, have created health care behemoths that leverage their market power to increase prices when they negotiate rates and contracts with payers.

“Protecting access to self-insured high-quality health care is not a political issue, but a question of basic human rights; I’m proud to come together with my Assembly colleagues in support of a fix to this long-broken system,” Brooklyn state Senator Andrew Gounardes said. “Through HEAL, we will level the playing field in favor of patients, restrict anti-competitive tactics and get large hospital systems to finally establish fair pricing systems that work for all New Yorkers.”

32BJ Health Fund, which provides benefits to nearly 100,000 32BJ members and their families, is leading the charge to rein rising hospital costs. The fund has already severed ties with NewYork-Presbyterian because of its higher costs for standard procedures compared to other area hospitals, which negatively affected 32BJ participants’ ability to access affordable, quality care.

“No longer can we stand back and abide by hospital administrators who meet behind closed doors to lock in increasingly unaffordable prices without any explanation as to why,” 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg said. “We’re fighting on behalf of the millions of New Yorkers who deserve affordable and transparent access to health care. HEAL is just the first step of a battle from which we will not back down until truly equitable and sane hospital prices are the standard, not the exception to the rule.”

The Rosedale resident explained that his union, the largest property services union in the country, wants to keep more money out of the hands of hospital systems and in the pockets of its hard-working members, many of whom are Black and brown essential workers who helped keep the city running at the height of the pandemic.

DC37 Director of Political Action Jeremy John said their union stands with 32BJ “in fighting out-of-control hospital prices.”

“Hardworking New Yorkers who maintained this city for the last 15 months should not be forced to choose between preserving access to high-quality health care and being paid a living wage. Sadly, this issue is not unique to our organizations,” John said. “The truth is that the higher the cost of health care rises, the less money there is available to pay for vital city services. This is something every city resident should care about and join forces with us to combat.”

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