The New Hampshire Hospital Association is back in the data disclosure business with last week's release of hospital-specific financial information.
"It shows our willingness to be publicly accountable," said Gina Balkus, the association's vice president. "Even though a lot of information is publicly available, it's rarely disclosed."
In aggregate, New Hampshire's 26 hospitals earned a $26.5 million operating profit on net operating revenues of $1.1 billion last year.
The issue of whether state hospital associations release profit data on their membership or defer that function to state agencies is under debate in several states (Aug. 8, p. 115).
In New Hampshire, the NHHA issued hospital-specific 1991 financial data for the first time in 1992. But it decided to take a one-year break after the release failed to generate interest publicly and in the news media.
In the association's absence, a local newspaper, the Portsmouth Herald, published an article in February on hospital profits that was based on publicly available Medicare cost reports.
In the article, "Turning a healthy profit," the newspaper said New Hampshire hospitals earned an aggregate profit of $81 million in 1992, posting a profit margin substantially higher than the national average.
"There were some inaccuracies, and the coverage was not as positive as it could have been," Ms. Balkus said.
Three months later, NHHA's board of trustees adopted a formal policy requiring the association to release hospital-specific data reports regarding any information that's already publicly available but often not disclosed.
Such data include hospital utilization statistics and details about how hospitals spend their Medicaid disproportionate-share payments.
"We can tell our own story better than anyone else," Ms. Balkus said.
Last week's report revealed a big drop in hospital profits, but Ms. Balkus said the decline was unrelated to the decision to start releasing hospital financial data again. She said the decision to release the data was made long before the financial results were in.
Hospital operating profits dropped nearly 40% last year, chopping hospitals' aggregate operating profit margin to 2.5% last year from 4.3% in 1992. Still, the 1993 margin was substantially higher than the 0.5% operating profit margin that hospitals posted nationally last year, according to the American Hospital Association.
Total aggregate profits dropped more than 60% last year to $28.5 million from about $79 million in 1992, the NHHA reported. Total profits include all forms of revenues, including donations and investment income.
The New Hampshire hospital with both the highest total profits and highest operating profit margin was Exeter (N.H.) Hospital. The 100-bed facility earned about $6 million last year and posted an 8.9% operating profit margin.
Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, N.H., meanwhile, lost the most money. Although posting a 0.7% profit margin on its operations last year, the 407-bed facility lost a total of $9.6 million.