State legislators approve audit of UC medical centers

Lawmakers voted to approve an audit at two UC medical centers, including the UCSF medical center pictured above.
Michael Tao/File
Lawmakers voted to approve an audit at two UC medical centers, including the UCSF medical center pictured above.

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California lawmakers voted Wednesday to approve an audit of revenue and staffing levels at two UC medical centers, raising concerns about the UC system’s readiness for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The audit, passed by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee in a 9-0 vote that included five abstentions, will focus on revenue and staffing levels at the UCLA and UCSF medical centers. In a separate hearing on Wednesday, the state Senate Committee on Health made an inquiry into the state’s readiness for the Affordable Care Act, which will go into effect in 2014.

Assemblymember Adam Gray, chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, requested the audit in a May 13 letter to the committee. Citing an increase in revenue at the UC medical centers that did not translate to increased patient caseload, Gray used the lack of donation to charity from UCLA Medical Center as an example.

“If UCLA Medical Center does not generate sufficient revenue to meet the county average for charity care, we need to understand why,” Gray said in the letter. “If, on the other hand, UCLA is generating substantial revenue in excess of its costs, we need to understand where those revenues go.”

The audit will also identify the number of employees at the UCLA and UCSF centers who earn more than $200,000 a year.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3229, a union representing about 13,000 UC patient care technical workers, published a whistleblower report in March that claimed inadequate staffing levels led to patient harm and recently struck citing reasons of understaffing.

“I’m very pleased with the Legislature’s raising concerns and taking things seriously,” said Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME 3299. “These are taxpayer-funded institutions — public hospitals — so they should be accountable to the public.”

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein criticized the need for the audit, citing audits from Price Waterhouse Coopers and the California Department of Public Health as evidence that the UC medical system has already been audited enough.

Klein also said the information sought by the audit is publicly available.

“The irony is that the results of this additional audit will disprove AFSCME’s allegations against UC,” Klein said. “Certainly, we will cooperate as we always do with audits, but we believe this is an attempt by unions to involve the legislature in contract negotiations.”

State auditor Elaine Howle estimates that the audit will take more than 2,500 hours of audit work at a cost of about $270,000.

But with the Affordable Care Act due to go into effect next year, Lybarger said the information the audit brings will outweigh its costs.

“It’s absolutely worth taking a look to see if the centers are prepared for the tsunami of new patients that we will see next year,” Lybarger said.

Contact Chris Yoder at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @christiancyoder.