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California Attorney Genera Details ‘Historic’ Settlement in Sutter Health Antitrust Case

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Sutter Health will pay $575 million to settle a closely watched antitrust case filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whose office had accused the nonprofit health care giant of using its market dominance in Northern California to illegally drive up prices.

Under terms of the agreement, Sutter will continue to operate as an integrated system. But it has agreed to end a host of practices that Becerra alleged unfairly stifled competition, including all-or-nothing contracting deals demanding that an insurer that wanted to include any one of the Sutter hospitals or clinics in its network must include all of them — even if some of those facilities were more expensive than a competitor.

The agreement includes the appointment of a jointly approved special monitor who will be charged with ensuring that Sutter is following the terms of the agreement for at least the next 10 years.

Becerra announced details of the settlement, which he termed “historic,” at a news conference in Sacramento on Friday.

“When one health care provider can dominate the market, those who shoulder the cost of care — patients, employers, insurers — are the biggest losers,” Becerra said. “Today’s settlement will be a game-changer for restoring competition in our healthcare markets.

The terms of the agreement are subject to approval by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo, who is expected to rule preliminarily on the agreement in February.

Among other terms, the settlement requires Sutter to:

• Limit what it charges patients for out-of-network services

• Increase transparency by allowing insurers and employers to give patients pricing information

• Cease bundling services and products, and instead offer stand-alone pricing

The case is expected to have nationwide implications on how hospital systems negotiate prices with insurers.

While a settlement does not set a legal precedent, “it is strong guidance that the kinds of behavior Sutter engaged in are not going to be allowed going forward,” said Jaime King, associate dean and a professor of law at UC Hastings College of the Law. “This really opens the door for attorneys general in other states to begin examining their own health systems for similar behaviors.”

Sutter stood accused of violating California’s antitrust laws by using its market power to drive up prices. Health care costs in Northern California, where Sutter is dominant, are 20 percent to 30 percent higher than in Southern California, even after adjusting for cost of living, according to a 2018 study from the Nicholas C. Petris Center at the University of California-Berkeley that was cited in the complaint.

The case was a massive undertaking, encompassing years of work and millions of pages of documents. Had the plaintiffs prevailed in court, Sutter might have faced damages of up to $2.7 billion.

In agreeing to the terms, Sutter did not admit wrongdoing. In a statement, General Counsel Flo Di Benedetto described Sutter’s care as “affordable” and “high quality.” She also noted that Sutter had invested nearly $10 billion in new technologies and state-of-the-art facilities over the past decade.

“As an organization, we will have to evaluate future capital investments based on the impact of the settlement,” Di Benedetto said. “Despite the increasing cost of care and operating in high-wage markets, we remain focused on making healthcare more affordable for our patients.”

The case initially was filed as a class-action lawsuit in 2014 by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union & Employers Benefit Trust (UEBT), representing multiple employers, unions and local governments whose workers use Sutter services.

Becerra’s office joined the case in 2018.

“Our settlement with Sutter represents an extraordinary result for working people, their employers, and every Californian who has struggled with the high cost of healthcare,” UEBT Chair Jacques Loveall said in a statement. The $575 million in damages will be distributed among the self-funded employers and union trusts that brought the case, to defray overcharges they argued they paid Sutter for worker health care.

Sutter has 24 hospitals, 34 surgery centers and 5,500 physicians across Northern California, with $13 billion in operating revenue in 2018. The state’s lawsuit alleged Sutter has aggressively bought up hospitals and physician practices throughout the Bay Area and Northern California and exploited that market dominance for profit.

Sutter Health consistently denied the allegations, saying its large, integrated health system offers tangible benefits for patients, including more seamless, high-quality care and increased access for residents in rural areas. Sutter also disputed that its prices are higher than other major health care providers, saying its internal analyses tell a different story.

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Bay Area

What California Is Learning from Expanding Voters Rights

Mail-in ballot voting has been underway since the second week in May.  Assembly Bill 37, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021, requires the state to send vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots to every registered voter in the state. The law applies to all elections held after Jan. 1, 2022.

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California’s response to the current trend in some states that will limit voting, is to make access and methods of voting easier.
California’s response to the current trend in some states that will limit voting, is to make access and methods of voting easier.

By Joe W. Bowers Jr., California Black Media

June 7, 2022 is Primary Election Day in California.

On the ballot are candidates for U.S. Senate, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer, Attorney General, Insurance Commissioner, State Board of Equalization, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate and State Assembly, as well as candidates for local elected positions.

There are two contests for U.S. Senate on the ballot. One is for a full six-year term ending Jan. 3, 2029. The other is for the remainder of the term that Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) has been serving in place of Vice. President Kamala Harris that ends Jan. 3, 2023.

Mail-in ballot voting has been underway since the second week in May.  Assembly Bill 37, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021, requires the state to send vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots to every registered voter in the state. The law applies to all elections held after Jan. 1, 2022.

Ballots are sent 29 days before the election, which was May 9 for the primary. For the November General Election, voters will start receiving ballots October 10.

A majority of California voters live in counties that have adopted the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) system. In 2016, Senate Bill 450 created the VCA, an election model that expands voters’ options for how, when and where they can cast their ballots in an attempt to provide more accessible voting options.

VBM ballots are provided with a postage-paid return envelope. For a ballot to count in the upcoming primary election, it must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by June 14, 2022. It can also be dropped off in-person to a secure ballot drop box, a voting location or county elections office by 8:00 p.m. on June 7, 2022.

The VCA is an optional law. Counties elect if they want to adopt it. In 2018, five counties adopted the new law: Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo. In 2020, nine additional counties changed their election models to the VCA: Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Orange, Santa Clara, and Tuolumne. In 2022, the number of counties that have transitioned to the VCA grew to 28 with the addition of Alameda, Kings, Marin, Merced, Riverside, San Benito, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Ventura, and Yolo counties.

In VCA counties, early in-person voting begins as early as May 28. Voters can vote at any county vote center instead of being assigned to a neighborhood polling place. The vote centers are open four to 10 days prior to the election, including weekends. They serve as one-stop shops with accessible voting machines – venues where voters can drop off their VBM ballot, receive a replacement ballot, register to vote, and get help with voting material in multiple languages.

Unregistered voters who miss the close of registration on May 23 will be able to conditionally register to vote at any vote center and cast a provisional ballot through the end of Election Day.

When California policymakers and election officials proposed the Voter’s Choice Act most proponents applauded its benefits, including lowering election administration costs, providing greater convenience and flexibility for voters, and the potential to improve voter turnout.

Recently, California Secretary of State (SOS) Shirley Weber released a report on the implementation of VCA during the 2020 Primary and General Elections.

Key findings of the report include:

VCA counties had higher voter registration rates in the state. The 15 VCA counties accounted for about half of the state’s registered voters in both elections.

Many VCA counties experienced a higher voter turnout compared to their non-VCA counterparts. Turnout in the 2020 General Election across racial groups showed white voters had a higher overall turnout than their non-W\white counterparts. The voter turnout gap for Black voters was 5.2 points, and AAPI voters had a turnout gap of 4.3 points.

Black and AAPI voters turned out at similar rates as the VCA counties’ average, and Latino voters used in-person voting most among all races and ethnicities.

Use of vote-by-mail ballots was the primary choice of voting in the 2020 elections. More voters chose to return their ballot by drop box than by mail. Use of drop boxes decreased after the age of 45 in the Primary Election and age 35 in the General Election.

Voters in VCA counties cast a ballot in-person at a higher rate than voters in non-VCA counties in the General Election (55.1%). For the Primary Election, that number was 46.6%.

In the General Election, voters aged 46-55 voted in person most compared to all other age groups. In both the Primary and General Elections, voters aged 66+ voted in-person least.

VBM ballot rejection rates in VCA counties were similar to VBM ballot rejections statewide. Voters aged 18-25 had the highest ballot rejection rate. Ballot rejection rates decreased as voter age increased in VCA counties.

VBM ballots were rejected (69.3%) mainly due to not being received on time during the Primary Election. But General Election VBM ballots were mainly rejected due to non-matching signatures (56.09%).

Provisional ballot use decreased significantly between the Primary and General Elections.

There were no confirmed instances of voter fraud in both the Primary and General elections in 2020.

Secretary of State’s Recommendations based on the report findings:

Share best practices from counties that have high voter registration rates with counties that have lower registration rates.

Reduce ballot rejection rates through increased voter education.

Continue to work with counties to ensure drop box locations are accessible and convenient to the public.

Increase outreach and education about early in-person voting and other voting options available in VCA counties.

Increase targeted outreach efforts to engage young voters (18-25).

“We have taken away every excuse a person can possibly have as to why they won’t vote,” SOS Weber said recently. “People realize this is going to be easy and it’s comfortable.”

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Activism

Protest of Palestinian American Journalist’s Killing by Israeli Police Draws 500 in S.F.

“If you were a Palestinian anywhere around the world who watched the news since the late ’90s, you grew up with Shireen Abu Akleh,” said Sabreen Imtair, a San Francisco State University student and Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) member in an interview during the protest. “A lot of people are saying they lost a household member. We are really feeling her loss right now.”

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Protesters march down 16th Street in San Francisco on May 14 to speak out against the Israeli killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, 74 years of occupation, and USA support of Israel. Photo by Zack Haber.
Protesters march down 16th Street in San Francisco on May 14 to speak out against the Israeli killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, 74 years of occupation, and USA support of Israel. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Starting at noon on May 14, over 500 people rallied and marched in San Francisco’s Mission District to protest the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and 74 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine.

“If you were a Palestinian anywhere around the world who watched the news since the late ’90s, you grew up with Shireen Abu Akleh,” said Sabreen Imtair, a San Francisco State University student and Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) member in an interview during the protest. “A lot of people are saying they lost a household member. We are really feeling her loss right now.”

Abu Akleh, who had worked for the Al Jazeera news network for 25 years as one of the most prominent journalists reporting in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, died of a bullet wound on May 11 while covering an Israeli army raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.

She was wearing a blue vest with large white letters stating “PRESS.” During Abu Akleh’s massive funeral on May 13, Israeli police beat people carrying her casket.

“We’re not even able to bury our dead in peace,” said AROC organizer Sharif Zakout during a speech at the San Francisco protest. “It’s disgusting.”

AROC, Palestinian Action Network, Palestinian Youth Movement, and Jewish Voice For Peace organized the San Francisco demonstration. It was one of at least 60 such actions occurring between May 14-16 around the world to remember Abu Akleh and to mark Nakba Day, an annual commemoration for Palestinians that began after 1948, when the British government formally stopped recognizing the state of Palestine and recognized Israel in its place.

This sparked the Arab-Israeli war when Zionist military forces expelled over 750,000 Palestinians and captured 78% of Palestine’s land.

In an interview at the protest, Lisa Rofel, a member of Jewish Voice For Peace, spoke out against Israeli occupation and explained why the Jewish group was present.

“We’re here because we strongly support the Palestinian struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation,” Rofel said. “It’s an occupation which has been vicious, cruel and inhumane and now has turned into military rule over almost every aspect of Palestinians’ lives. We also demand an end to U.S. complicity in that occupation.”

According to a report by Congressional Research Service, the Biden administration has allocated over $3.8 billion in military financing and missile defense funding to Israel this year.

During the demonstration, a diverse array of people that included elders along with young children, marched about a mile-long route carrying signs, banners, Palestinian flags, and art as they chanted in English and Arabic. Over 18 marchers carried one giant Palestinian flag together.

Some protesters carried signs stating 55 journalists have been killed by Israeli forces since 2000, a figure The Palestinian Journalists’ Union cites.

Other protesters carried signs calling attention to Ahmed Manasra, a 21-year-old Palestinian who has been imprisoned since he was arrested at age 13 after being with his cousin, who allegedly stabbed two Israeli settlers in Pisgat Ze’ev.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, UN bodies and the International Court of Justice considers Pisgat Ze’ev an illegal settlement.

Chris Gazaleh, a Palestinian American artist based in San Francisco, made some of the art for the rally by creating signs inspired by Palestinian architecture and Arabic calligraphy to represent cities that Zionists ethnically cleansed during the 1948 Nakba.

During a speech at this year’s San Francisco Nabka rally, Rivka Louissant, a Haitian cultural worker who organizes with the an anti-war and anti-racism coalition ANSWER, spoke about how people and organizations are increasingly supporting an end to Israeli occupation and the struggle for Palestinian autonomy.

“Support for Palestinian rights and BDS is more popular than ever,” Louissant said. “The public is waking up to the evils of imperialism.”

In April of last year, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of “crimes of apartheid,” and in February of this year, Amnesty International described Israel as an “apartheid system,” and characterized its treatment of Palestinians as “a crime against humanity.”

Some local politicians have recently shown support for Israel. During a speech at the rally, AROC organizer Sharif Zakout criticized San Francisco Board Supervisor Rafael Mandelman for his recent visit to Israel for the Israel Seminar in light of Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing. Zakout characterized the seminar as “a propaganda trip.” The Israel Seminar is organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council, which has taken a public stand against the BDS movement, and has refused to denounce Israeli attacks against Palestinians. Photos from the trip, posted on May 15 and 16, also show Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, and San Mateo Councilmember Amourence Lee.

“We are here today to say the Bay Area does not put up with that BS,” said Zakout to cheers from the protesters. “We stand with oppressed people everywhere. From Haiti to Palestine to Sri Lanka, we stand by resisting all state violence, colonialism, occupation and warfare.”

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Bay Area

Bay Area Activist Seeks Congressional Seat in Newly Formed District 8

Last year, the California Black Census and Redistricting Hub pushed the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw a new congressional district to create consolidate the voting power of these diverse communities based on the results of the 2020 U.S. Census. (The new district now spans the I-80 corridor across Contra Costa and Solano counties, including Richmond, El Cerrito, Pittsburg, Vallejo, Fairfield, and a portion of Antioch, is the most diverse in the region.)

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Cheryl Sudduth, a Bay Area community organizer and international negotiator, is seeking election as the first U.S. Representative for California’s new 8th Congressional district.
Cheryl Sudduth, a Bay Area community organizer and international negotiator, is seeking election as the first U.S. Representative for California’s new 8th Congressional district.

By Troy Finley

Cheryl Sudduth, a Bay Area community organizer and international negotiator, is seeking election as the first U.S. Representative for California’s new 8th Congressional district. She is challenging incumbent Democratic Congressman John Garamendi.

Last year, the California Black Census and Redistricting Hub pushed the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw a new congressional district to consolidate the voting power of these diverse communities based on the results of the 2020 U.S. Census.

(The new district now spans the I-80 corridor across Contra Costa and Solano counties, including Richmond, El Cerrito, Pittsburg, Vallejo, Fairfield, and a portion of Antioch, is the most diverse in the region.)

The commission agreed to the community concerns and ended up creating the only district in the entire state with at least 15% Latino, Black, white, and Asian populations. But it is also a district with areas of historically underserved and under-resourced communities and schools – where residents throughout struggle to find affordable housing, good paying jobs, public transit, and ongoing environmental hazards.

The five oil refineries located in the new district have large impacts on the local economy and public health of the local communities but can seem a world away from the Napa and Sonoma wine country. It is also a district that Garamendi believes he doesn’t have to reside in to represent it.

Once the new district was created, the next goal was to recruit a local person of color to represent it. Enter Cheryl Sudduth, a local community leader and government contracting officer… a candidate for the new seat.

As a multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual woman with disabilities, experienced in international contracting and environmental sciences, she fit the mold exactly.

“It was never in the plan to run,” said Sudduth. She was traveling back to the Bay Area from a water conference and got a call she never expected.

The campaign for Congress was a long shot from the start. “People were saying, she seems ‘fine’ but Congressman Garamendi is a veteran politician and someone who looks like me, who speaks like me, who moves like me could never get elected over him…maybe next time,” Sudduth recalls.

However, I believed then – as I do now – that the toughest fights are always worth taking on,” she said. “I’ve always been told that government only works when people, everyday people like you and me, raise our voices and demand change.

“Our communities have been so ignored,” she said, “I just feel like it’s our responsibility to show up and stand up for us against this continued effort to bring in people who do not live here yet always want to govern our communities.”

Her campaign has mostly been staffed with volunteers – Millennials, Gen Xers, lots of women. She has made a point to reject corporate donations and relies solely on small donors; nearly 70% of her campaign funds came from individual contributions under $200.

Despite Garamendi’s proclamation that it isn’t ‘legally required’ to live in the district, Sudduth believes that his perspective reflects the out-of-touch nature of the current Congress and the sort of nepotism that seems to thrive within the Democratic machine that believes it a perfectly suitable system that a community which is 70% people of color has never had a person of color represent them on the federal level.

“Our political differences are mainly on issues of economic and racial justice,” she said. “He wants to represent us but doesn’t want to live among us? That’s why he’s not effective for us. He doesn’t have a stake in the game.

“I do have the advantage of being able to connect with the people of the community,” she said. She lives in the district near industry, which gives her firsthand experience with income inequality, housing and homeless issues, educational inequities, and racial injustices. “Frankly, anyone who doesn’t live in the district, hasn’t sent his children to our schools, spent with our small businesses and pay taxes here regularly, doesn’t drink our water or breathe our air, cannot possibly represent us.”

Suddoth believes she has a gift “resolving issues. So, every position I’ve held from Sony to Siebel/Oracle and Goodwill, AbilityOne, U.S. President’s Commission for People who are Blind or Disabled and Mattson Technology and now AC Transit, my elected office and appointed commissions, creating thousands of federal jobs, building housing, establishing healthcare programs – I have consistently delivered award winning solutions and community resources by focusing on the fix and not just the fight.

She also has direct experience in international contracting, having lived and worked in over a dozen countries managing and negotiating contracts in nine languages, in water and wastewater, in the environmental sciences, in creating jobs and overseeing fair housing projects, and equity advocacy.

Suddoth and members of her campaign are grateful for the many people who have endorsed her including ILWU Local 10, PEU 1, LAAAWPAC, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, former Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson, former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, and hundreds of elected, appointed officials and commissioners.

https://cherylsudduth.nationbuilder.com

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