SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX ) — Sutter Health has been accused of widespread overcharging on people’s bills. Now the company is under fire for destroying large amounts of evidence.

Attorneys suing the company claim it manipulated prices, forcing Northern California patients to pay more for health services. Now, even the judge in the case is taking the company to task.

“They prevented patients from shopping for the best value for their health care,” said attorney Rick Grossman.

He represents some 1,500 self-funded insurance plans charging that premiums went up in part because Sutter Health was manipulating charges for health care in northern California.

“Sutter made the prices to be paid, secret,” said Grossman. “They prevented the insurance companies from publishing the prices that would be charged.”

Sutter admits shredding 192 boxes of documents related to the case.

“We were shocked,” said Grossman. “Everyone in Northern California was affected by this. It increased the prices that are charged by thousands of Sutter doctors. Increased the prices that are charged by Sutter hospitals across Northern California.”

Grossman said as a result of lack of competition prices rose generally across the market. But the real shocker came when it was discovered that after the suit was filed, Sutter had destroyed 192 boxes of evidence in connection with the case.

“Ten years of evidence,” said Grossman.

Sutter said the 192 boxes were shredded as part of a routine archiving process.

An e-mail was discovered from a key Sutter employee saying, “I’ve pushed the button . . . I’m running and hiding . . . fingers crossed that I haven’t authorized something the FTC will hunt me down for.”

Sutter said the it was all a mistake, but the judge in the case wasn’t buying the ten years of shredding, calling it “decidedly odd” and adding, “there is no good explanation for the specific and unusual destruction here.”

Grossman said the reason was simple.

“Sutter was attempting to cover up its conduct.”

Sutter said there is no coverup and all the evidence will come out in the trial. As far as higher prices , Sutter said look at insurance companies — only a handful control 90 percent of the market in California.

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