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A labor union representing health care workers filed two ballot initiatives today that seek to prohibit hospitals from overcharging patients and tamp down executive compensation at nonprofit facilities.

The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West delivered the measures to the Attorney General's Office on Friday. The union is aiming to qualify them for the November 2014 ballot.

The Fair Healthcare Pricing Act would forbid hospitals from charging more than 25 percent above the cost of patient care while the Charitable Hospital Executive Compensation Act would bar nonprofit hospital executives from receiving more than $450,000 in annual compensation. Proponents estimate the measures would reduce prices by more than $2.5 billion a year.

Dave Regan, president of the 150,000-member SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, said the union endeavors to engage the hospital industry in a public debate about rising costs.

"Their unwillingness to date to really take seriously the call to reform the increasing cost and frankly uneven quality around the state has led us here today," Regan told reporters in Sacramento. "We fundamentally believe that these measures are not only good policy but they represent the desires and the aspirations of a huge majority of Californians."

Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokesman for the California Hospital Association, said the organization was disappointed the union filed the initiatives.

"They put a cloud over the accomplishments that have been mutually beneficial to health care workers, hospitals and patients," Emerson-Shea said.

This is the second consecutive year the union has pitched a pair of similar initiatives. Last year, SEIU pushed measures to harness excessive billing and increase health care for the indigent, but withdrew the proposals after reaching an agreement that enlisted the hospital industry in various organizing efforts.

Critics at the time charged that the union was operating with ulterior motives, including dangling the proposals as leverage in contract negotiations and as a way to boost its membership ranks.

Regan said the union doesn't believe hospitals "lived up to their commitments," a point refuted by the hospital association.

Emerson-Shea said the association and union jointly accomplished many of the goals established in their May 2012 agreement, including collaborating on legislation, efforts to improve people's health and reduce chronic disease and creating a healthier workforce.

"What CHA is not able to do is produce additional union members for SEIU-UHW," she said. "CHA is not an agent for hospitals in labor matters."

On Friday, the proponents sought to focus attention on the need to hold down costs and keep executive compensation in check. They argued that hospitals charge patients significantly more than the actual cost of providing care and produced research suggesting the 10 highest-compensated nonprofit hospital executives earned an average $2.6 million annually, with the highest bringing in $7.8 million.

Photo: Dave Regan, president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, unveils a pair of ballot initiatives Friday outside the Attorney General's Office in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Christopher Cadelago.


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