RELEASE: Why are health care prices so high for workers in Monterey County?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 19, 2023
Media Contact: Julie Light,, 415-215-5737

Monterey County working families face steep hospital costs

Berkeley, CA–Monterey County has some of the highest hospital costs in the state, and working families are struggling to pay their health care bills. Hospital care is so expensive that the Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers urges pregnant teachers to make it part of their birth plan to deliver at a hospital outside the county if they can.

Employer-plan prices for inpatient and outpatient services at the three major hospitals in the county were 4.2 to 4.5 times Medicare prices, according to a RAND analysis. This is approximately 50% percent higher than the median California hospital, where employer-plan prices were found by RAND to be 2.7 times Medicare prices. By comparison, in the Bay Area, a high-cost-of-living region with relatively high health care costs, the median hospital had employer-plan prices that were 3 times Medicare prices.

To better understand why health care costs are so high in this Central Coast county, there is an urgent need to collect and analyze data that can help point to causes and solutions to the problem, according to Laurel Lucia, director of the UC Berkeley Labor Center Health Care Program.

“Market concentration is one part of the reason for the high prices,” said Lucia, who noted that there are only four hospitals in the county and only three within easy traveling distance for most Monterey and Salinas workers. “More data and scrutiny are needed to better understand the root of the problem and offer patients solutions to the staggering burden of hospital bills,” she said.

Lucia added that wages for Monterey-area health care workers were comparable to elsewhere in California and research has shown that higher prices do not necessarily mean better quality care for patients.

Meanwhile, workers have been testifying before the Office of Health Care Affordability (OHCA) Board. One farmworker’s spouse was informed by Salinas Valley Health that even though she had health insurance she needed to prepay her share–over $10,000–for her $47,000 surgery. An administrator for the United Farm Workers’ health plan was able to arrange for the surgery to be done at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose for roughly half that price with no share of the cost for the patient. He was able to save more than $15,000 for the union’s plan even after paying for transportation.

Clementina Gonzalez, a Monterey hotel housekeeper, has had troubles paying her medical bills going back a decade, when she was hospitalized at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula for treatment for anemia. She paid over $10,000 in out-of-pocket costs even with insurance. Gonzalez and her family tried their best to take care of the medical bills but quickly fell behind. Her credit was damaged, and she and her family were forced to cut back on food and other expenses to pay the medical bills. Gonzalez’s illness recently worsened. She went to Natividad Hospital in Salinas and has acquired thousands of dollars in additional debt, beginning the worry and hardship again.

The Labor Center’s Lucia said new California agencies, like OHCA and the Health Care Payments Data program, should study the high health care prices in Monterey, which could ultimately prompt solutions for working families in the county. For details see Why are health care prices so high for workers in Monterey County?