As budget cuts dry up state funding for public hospitals, emergency rooms and entire hospitals are shutting down. Over the past ten years over thirty public hospitals in California have closed. Public hospitals are the health care safety nets that serve mostly uninsured, low income and poor communities. As more close and layoff workers, the remaining hospitals become overwhelmed, while patients are forced to drive farther, wait longer and be rushed in and out. And with the new federal health care law (the Affordable Care Act), hospitals will be facing more funding cuts as well as new penalties, such as fines for readmitting patients. It’s estimated that an additional 40 hospitals in California may close in the next five to ten years. That’s nearly eleven percent of the 430 hospitals statewide.
In this dire health care environment, in California Kaiser and Sutter are competing over the spoils. Their strategy is to swoop in and try to take over as the public hospitals decline. Their plan is to steal patients away from the public hospitals, expand into new regions and capture new health care markets, all to increase profits. Both companies have been either building new facilities or expanding old ones all over the Bay Area (in San Francisco, San Leandro, Oakland, San Rafael and beyond). And now with the new health care law forcing more people to buy health insurance, in California and the Bay Area more and more people will be forced into the expensive arms of either Sutter or Kaiser.
As Kaiser and Sutter battle it out over dominating more health care markets and making more profits, and this trend of public hospital closings and private expansion continues, we can only expect to be paying more money for worse health care. And for the rest of us without health insurance, forced to go to the few public hospitals and clinics left, our wait times will be longer, the staff will be further overwhelmed and our care will be even worse.