Dignity Health Buyout of U.S. Healthworks
August’s planned buyout of U.S. HealthWorks by Dignity Health is a red flag to injured workers who more than likely may be sent to a medical center owned by this behemoth by year’s end as well as to their employers who may be facing higher costs for the privilege of sending their injured workers there. As of now, U.S. Healthworks operates 172 medical centers nationally, and Dignity Health has 33 medical facilities throughout the state of California, four in Nevada and three in Arizona.
This acquisition mirrors similar consolidations by health systems and hospital conglomerates occurring throughout California and the United States in an attempt to cash in on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
According to U.S. HealthWorks CEO, Daniel Crowley, the buyout will provide a ìgreat platform for us to continue growing our network to provide high-quality health care services throughout the country,î which he recently stated in a Modesto Bee article. What he doesn’t say is that for injured workers and their employers this represents big providers getting bigger and private practice physicians becoming unavailable because they cannot compete. The inevitable result is less care at higher rates with no assurance of high quality care and returning to work.
Skeptics need only look at the record. During the past 15 months, U.S. HealthWorks has spent well over $250,000 (and counting) to hire lobbyists and former Schwarzenegger appointees, to lobby the legislature on its behalf. The focus of its lobbying effort is to give itself a raise by sponsoring SB 923, authored by Senator Kevin deLeon of Los Angeles. This bill would mandate adoption of the federal Medicare reimbursement system to care for California’s injured workers. It’s passage guarantees an almost instantaneous raise in U.S. Healthworks/Diginity workers’ compensation revenue of 20% or more.
Employers should not be applauding this revenue grab. Implementation of it will cost the Division of Workers’ Compensation more than $1 million and many months of administrative hearings. These costs are paid by employers through assessments to their premium payments which by every indication will rise anyway in the coming months.
U.S. HealthWorks may have both employers and injured workers in a vice. This ìno winî squeeze comes from the fact that despite failing passage in 2011, SB 923 could still come up for a vote this month AND legislation meant to reform the work comp system may be introduced in the next few days containing the very same Medicare mandate. Injured workers and employers face huge issues with access to care and higher costs either way. The worst part is that the latter reform legislation will be advertised as a grand compromiseî between labor and management despite the fact that the compromise was drafted behind closed doors with no input from injured workers or the medical community (except perhaps U.S. HealthWorks).
The monopolization of occupational care is poised to raise prices and offer less medical services at a higher cost. This will hinder adequate medical treatment to injured workers and essentially prolong their rehabilitation process and an opportunity to work or have medical care for chronic conditions caused by occupational injuries. This raises costs to employers.
Now is the time to act and stop this monopoly through legislation that is crafted to help, not hurt, injured workers and drafted in a way that minimizes the impact on their employers who pay the bill. If injured workers (and their employers) stand idly by – private occupational health centers and providers that truly help injured workers will become a memory of the past and injured workers will be burdened by inadequate medical care and employers will be left with a larger bill.