A feud about the price of high-technology medical care has one Greenville, S.C., hospital system crying foul, lawmakers writing new laws and a trade association saying the industry should resolve the matter itself.
St. Francis Health System complains that the Greenville Hospital System is charging patients affiliated with St. Francis' managed-care plans more for open heart surgery than it charges other patients.
That makes it difficult to compete because companies buying managed care balk at paying the higher prices, said Margaret Clark, vice president of marketing and public relations for Greenville-based St. Francis.
Greenville Hospital System officials say the price is based on the same criteria it uses for any business. The small number of patients St. Francis wants to buy services for doesn't warrant a larger discount, the hospital system says.
But some lawmakers say there needs to be regulation because the permit to provide open-heart surgery is granted by the state. St. Francis doesn't offer the service.
Bills in the General Assembly and proposed new health regulations would prohibit hospitals that have permits to provide expensive services from charging competitors more than other purchasers.
Hearings were scheduled for last week on the amendment to state health rules.
The South Carolina Hospital Association calls the proposals unnecessary government intrusions that will mean higher hospital rates.
"We think the appropriate avenue is to work it out between the hospitals rather than asking the government to enter the process," said Bill Prince, legislative director for the association.
Greenville Hospital officials say the changes would eliminate the ability to give lower prices to companies that provide large numbers of patients through managed-care agreements.
"Managed care is about letting the marketplace exert appropriate pressure on hospitals and other providers to lower costs and improve quality and services," said Paul Briggs, vice president of managed care for the hospital system.
But because the state grants permits for high-tech services, there should be a level playing field, lawmakers say.
"Absent that, you're going to have one clear king of the hill, and he can call all the shots, dictate all the prices and determine the rules," said state Sen. David Thomas (R-Fountain Inn).-Associated Press