It is difficult to imagine a more poorly conceived idea to present to voters than the Measure F health care initiative pushed by the union representing health care workers throughout California, including Stanford Hospital employees.
The state Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Health Workers (UHW) is attempting similar initiatives across the state. In Palo Alto the union turned in more than 3,500 signatures in late May, leaving the city scrambling to meet the deadline for either adopting the proposal as presented or placing it on the ballot for voters to decide this November. The council unanimously voted to put it on the ballot and, subsequently, to oppose it. A nearly identical measure appears on the ballot in Livermore.
The proposal is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Not only will it fail to help consumers and create perverse incentives for medical centers to cut staffing levels, but it will also saddle the city with the need to hire a staff of experts to analyze and oversee the charges being made by almost all medical professionals, including individual practitioners, dentists and orthodontists practicing in Palo Alto. No city is equipped to regulate health care providers, and it is hard to conceive of any court upholding the constitutionality of local control over what local health care providers can charge for their services.
The stated purpose of the initiative is to rein in medical costs by limiting the prices charged to 15 percent above "the reasonable cost of direct patient care." Under the proposal, the city would be responsible for reviewing billing data every year and any provider found to have exceeded the threshold would be directed to rebate the difference to the payee, which would normally be the patient's insurance company.
Critics of the measure say the real motive of the union's aggressive attempts to place these initiative measures on local ballots is to intimidate non-union hospitals to consent to unionization in exchange for the union not using the initiative process to impose price controls. The union denies that is its strategy and says its goal is to improve patient care and control out-of-control health care costs.
Palo Alto is the wrong place for the union to try and sell a proposal for health care price controls administered by a new department of city employees with health care administration experience.
We're confident that voters will recognize that attempting to reform health care pricing on a city-by-city basis is a bad idea even if the proposal offered a reasonable regulatory framework, which it does not. It would do nothing to either improve patient care or reduce patient costs and would impose unreasonable and expensive burdens on local government and taxpayers.
Help keep such measures from being pursued by the union in other cities by voting "no" on Measure F.
Yes on Measure E hotel-tax increase
We reluctantly recommend voters support the city of Palo Alto's proposal to raise about $2.5 million a year in new city revenue by increasing the transient-occupancy tax from 14 to 15.5 percent. If it passes with the required simple majority vote, it would be the third increase in the last 11 years and will make Palo Alto's hotel tax the highest in the state.
Raising the cost of an already expensive hotel room by a few dollars is an easy sell to voters. It won't cost residents a dime but will benefit them by providing funds for the city's general fund.
Although there are no restrictions on how the money is used, the commitment being made by the city is that it will be spent on priority infrastructure projects, including the long-sought new public-safety building, renovations to old fire stations and a new parking garage serving the California Avenue area. There is a bit of false marketing of this measure in the official ballot description, which incorrectly implies that the city's 911 system is vulnerable without these new funds and doesn't even mention the public-safety building. Earlier polling showed citing the 911 system and omitting the word "infrastructure" would attract the most voter support — hardly the proper way to craft ballot language.
City staff and the council didn't do their best work on this proposal, and we would have preferred a more honest description and the use of other funding sources with a greater nexus to the infrastructure projects to be funded, such as a business tax or bond measure. But further delay in addressing the accumulated capital projects will only make these necessary projects more expensive.
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