Lawmakers want AG to probe Sutter Health

State Senator Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, and a dozen other Northern California state lawmakers wrote to state Attorney General Jerry Brown today, asking that he investigate the business practices of Sutter Health – the latest salvo in the battle to keep San Leandro Hospital and its emergency room open.

The letter asks the Attorney General to investigate whether Sutter Health has a pattern of using assets and profits of county, district and private safety net hospitals to its own benefit and to the detriment of the surrounding community.

Corbett hosted a town hall meeting last night in San Leandro; she says more than 300 people were there to show support for keeping the hospital and ER open, and some raised questions about Sutter Health’s activities at hospitals in San Francisco and Marin County as well.

“It’s clear that there is a strong community will to support the hospital and emergency room. Residents want to know why Sutter is not listening to them,” Corbett said in her news release. “I am asking the Attorney General to investigate their practices and protect the health and welfare of our citizens. I am grateful so many of my colleagues have joined in my request; it shows that many members of the legislature are concerned about Sutter’s actions in communities throughout the state.”

Besides Corbett, those signing the letter included state Senators Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; Mark Leno, D-San Francisco; Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa; and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; as well as Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; Jim Beall Jr., D-San Jose; Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata; Joe Coto, D-San Jose; Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa; Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.


AG’s office enters Michael Jackson death probe

California Attorney General Jerry Brown announced today that, at the Los Angeles Police Department’s request, agents from his office have launched an independent probe into matters uncovered in the investigation of “King of Pop” Michael Jackson’s death.

“Responding to a request from the LAPD, agents from my office will investigate several physicians whose names have come up in the course of the Michael Jackson death inquiry,” Brown said in a news release. “This investigation is at its earliest stages, and no conclusions can be drawn at this point.”

LAPD met Aug. 20 with representatives from the Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement (BNE) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to discuss information uncovered during its investigation. Brown’s release said BNE agents will review relevant records and documents in coming weeks, but LAPD remains the primary agency respsonsible for investigating Jackson’s death.

The Attorney General’s office maintains a prescription drug monitoring system, known as CURES (Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System), designed to identify and deter drug abuse and diversion through accurate and rapid tracking of controlled substances.

First Anna Nicole Smith, now Michael Jackson. Who’ll be the next celebrity-death case jacket to be opened in Brown’s office?


Ex-Antioch councilman talks about Garrido on national radio

Speaking of hearing voices, I just heard the voice of former Antioch councilman Ralph Hernandez on the radio in my car. He was featured on the nationally syndicated Osgood File this morning on KCBS.

Well, well. Ralph goes national. Folks may remember that he resigned from City Council a number of years ago (corrected at 10:41 a.m.) but he has remained a vocal community activist or agitator, depending on your point of view.

It seems Hernandez, a private investigator, was hired by Jaycee Lee Dugard’s kidnapper Phillip Garrido to verify affidavits from people who used a machine Garrido had invented, as Dave Ross on the Osgood File described it, “that allowed him, without speaking, to make other people hear voices inside their heads.” (Click here to see the Contra Costa Times stories.)

You can see the affidavits yourself at http://voicesrevealed.blogspot.com/

I’ve heard from other folks in Antioch that Hernandez described his work for Garrido as “verifying the existence of angels.”

Hernandez said in the Ross interview that he sat inside the Garrido house, met the wife and was introduced to a young woman between the age of 15 to 20. It’s unclear if this was Dugard or one of her two children fathered by Garrido.

But when Ross asked private eye Hernandez if he saw or felt anything strange in the house, well, here’s a short segment of the transcript:

(Ross:) Anything strange about the house itself? I mean, if anybody would walk into that house, would they have any inkling what might have gone on there?

(Hernandez:) Well, no. I didn’t have any reservations about the house. I didn’t say to myself, like: ‘Hey, there’s something strange there.’ I didn’t get that.”

(Ross) No, just an ordinary fellow who had invented a machine that let him insert voices telepathically into other people’s heads …

What does Ralph say about his time in the national spotlight? So far, he hasn’t returned my call although he had clearly been talking to the media and probably law enforcement.

Hernandez  told me in an email that he will make me wait to talk to him about Garrido for as long as he has been waiting for me to write a story he suggested that compares the levels of pension benefits of retirees from various public agencies. Back when Ralph suggested the story, my editor said the idea had merit but thought it was too ambitious for our limited resources at the time.

So, I wait by the phone, another one of those devices that lets you hear voices inside your head.


Medical malpractice tort reform a red herring

I’ve written or contributed to several stories in the past week on health care reform, and a few readers have e-mailed to ask why I didn’t delve into tort reform to bring down medical malpractice premiums that they believe are driving skyrocketing health care costs.

The answer: Because medical malpractice premiums aren’t driving skyrocketing health care costs.

From Bloomberg News:

(A)nnual jury awards and legal settlements involving doctors amounts to “a drop in the bucket” in a country that spends $2.3 trillion annually on health care, said Amitabh Chandra, a Harvard University economist. Chandra estimated the cost at $12 per person in the U.S., or about $3.6 billion, in a 2005 study. Insurer WellPoint Inc. said last month that liability wasn’t driving premiums.
Obama told an American Medical Association meeting in Chicago yesterday that his efforts to cut costs and increase coverage couldn’t succeed without freeing doctors from the fear of lawsuits. While that may be what his audience needed to hear, the evidence that malpractice drives up health-care costs is “debatable,” said Robert Laszewski, an Alexandria, Virginia, consultant to health insurers and other companies.
“Medical malpractice dollars are a red herring,” Chandra said in a telephone interview. “No serious economist thinks that saving money in med mal is the way to improve productivity in the system. There’s so many other sources of inefficiency.”

The Congressional Budget Office in 2004 concluded that medical malpractice tort reform wouldn’t have a significant effect on health care costs:

Malpractice costs amounted to an estimated $24 billion in 2002, but that figure represents less than 2 percent of overall health care spending. Thus, even a reduction of 25 percent to 30 percent in malpractice costs would lower health care costs by only about 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent, and the likely effect on health insurance premiums would be comparably small.

And Americans for Insurance Reform, a coalition of nearly 100 consumer and public interest groups around the country, issued a report in July which found:

    • Medical malpractice premiums, inflation-adjusted, are nearly the lowest they have been in over 30 years.
    • Medical malpractice claims, inflation-adjusted, are dropping significantly, down 45 percent since 2000.
    • Medical malpractice premiums are less than one-half of one percent of the country’s overall health care costs; medical malpractice claims are a mere one-fifth of one percent of health care costs. In over 30 years, premiums and claims have never been greater than 1% of our nation’s health care costs.
    • Medical malpractice insurer profits are higher than the rest of the property casualty industry, which has been remarkably profitable over the last five years.
    • The periodic premium spikes that doctors experience, as they did from 2002 until 2005, are not related to claims but to the economic cycle of insurers and to drops in investment income.
    • Many states that have resisted enacting severe restrictions on injured patients’ legal rights experienced rate changes (i.e., premium increases or decreases for doctors) similar to those states that enacted severe restrictions on patients’ rights, i.e., there is no correlation between “tort reform” and insurance rates for doctors.

Actually, at least 30 states already have capped medical malpractice lawsuit awards. One of ‘em is Texas; wanna see what’s driving health care costs there? This is a good read.


FPPC: Swanson is area’s most active fundraiser

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission issued a news release Tuesday saying state lawmakers so far had held more than 250 political fundraisers in Sacramento during 2009, according to information the FPPC culled from items listed in the Daily Bread section of the Capitol Morning Report.

“If a deep-pocket interest provided the maximum solicited contribution to every one of these fundraisers, they would have spent as much as $1,014,270 to attend the events,” FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson said in the release. “And this list does not include any district fundraising events or golf tournaments held by incumbent legislators.”

Most of the events were for 2010 elections but a significant number were for 2012 or 2014 races, he noted. “This trend of seeing contributions made for elections years in the future allows incumbent officeholders to enjoy a tremendous advantage by continually maintaining sizeable war chests — scaring off potential opponents.”

But the spreadsheet accompanying the release didn’t have the incumbents’ names, just the type of accounts for which they were raising money, and the event’s type, date and maximum solicited contribution. So I filed a Public Records Act request for an unredacted spreadsheet including the incumbents’ names, and I received it today.

It shows that, of all the lawmakers in the Bay Area, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, seems to have kept up the most aggressive fundraising schedule since Jan. 1, all for his 2010 Assembly re-election campaign. He held a Jan. 27 reception asking up to $3,900 a head; a Feb. 26 breakfast asking up to $1,900 a head; a March 16 breakfast asking up to $3,900 a head; an April 24 Pebble Beach golf fundraiser asking up to $3,900 a head; and a June 17th reception asking up to $3,900 a head.

Actually, I think the FPPC might’ve missed a few; I see Swanson held a May 5 luncheon asking $1,000 a head. And perhaps his most ambitious event is yet to come: his annual, two-day “East Coast/West Coast Golf Challenge,” scheduled for Sept. 4-5 at the Paiute Golf Resort in Las Vegas for up to $3,900 a head. Swanson is expecting as many as 70 participants from Washington, D.C. and all over California.

Swanson’s midyear campaign finance report shows he started 2009 with $8,657.79 in his campaign account, and raised $267,594.57 and spent $113,448.32 in the year’s first six months, leaving him with $164,809.49 cash on hand and $19,056.61 in unpaid debts as of June 30.

Swanson in November was re-elected to his 16th Assembly District seat with 87.9 percent of the vote, and 65.5 percent of his district’s registered voters are Democrats compared to 8.3 percent who are Republicans. It’s not as if he’s likely to face a strong challenge in 2010.

He readily acknowledged that when we spoke this afternoon: Although no incumbent should ever take anything for granted, he said, much of the money he spends so much time raising isn’t actually used for his re-election campaign.

“With the state cutbacks, they allow us to use our campaign accounts … to supplement our office budget for supplies and other kinds of things,” he said. “We also use it to contribute to community based organizations – like, for instance, I gave $1,500 to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce event that they did this year to help with their scholarships and community activities.”

Swanson also said he said he wants a big war chest on hand to combat ballot measures he finds objectionable. Next year will see a measure that would create an open-primary election system that Swanson said “challenges the core of democracy,” and there’s talk of measures that would cut the Legislature back to part-time and deny benefits to elected office holders; he’ll spend against all of ‘em, he said.

Of course, that’s not all he spends it on. I dinged him last November for 2007-08 cycle spending that included 128 “meetings and appearances” tabs at East Bay and Sacramento restaurants totaling $7,956.26. A glance at his spending in the first half of this year, though, seems to show less of that sort of thing.

See all the Bay Area lawmakers’ 2009 Sacramento fundraisers as listed by the FPPC, after the jump…
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CD10: On carpetbagging, boating and podcasting

Here are some bits and pieces from the trail of the 10th Congressional District campaign that caught my attention:


A couple of progressive bloggers post some interesting views on the money in the CD10 race:




State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier puts out today a second smack mailer (see below) about rival and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi. Titled “CarpetBaggers Gazette,” the DeSaulnier campaign continues to hit on the theme that Garamendi chose the easy path when he ran for the open 10th District seat rather than run in his home district against Republican incumbent Dan Lungren.

DeSaulnier hopes the remaining undecided voters who actually decide to vote will see this stuff and cast a nod in his direction.

Garamendi, who was 10 points ahead in the last two polls, is pretty much ignoring the whole thing.

“John is running a positive campaign talking about his accomplishments and what he has done in public service career. And we are doing well, so there’s no reason to switch strategy,” said Garamendi campaign spokesman Gary Gartner.


Garamendi has a hip and happening technology team. He has been putting out podcasts on various issues.

Check out his education podcast here: http://www.garamendi.org/sites/default/files/Podcast%20Education.mp3

The campaign previously released podcasts on Garamendi’s early career, the importance of Travis Air Force Base, and veterans issues.


KTVU television political editor Randy Shandobil is one of my favorite reporters and here is another reason why. You gotta see his story on the CD10 race and his very funny report from what appears to be a seat in a small boat as he floats in the middle of the Sacramento River.


Someone has time on his or her hands. Check out this mystery video. Here is a easy clue: It was not created by a fan of Garamendi.