St. Agnes HealthCare in Baltimore convinced the state of Maryland that its program to offer new mothers and their infants a free day's hospital stay will not result in higher prices for other patients.
The state last week approved a rate structure for the program, ending weeks of regulatory haggling.
St. Agnes may continue its program to guarantee new mothers a 48-hour postpartum stay, but must offer a fixed price per delivery rather than a free day.
The hospital also could incur a financial penalty for failing to submit a rate application prior to starting the program Feb. 12. The Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission asserted that the hospital should have sought its prior approval.
"We just see this as a basic technicality," hospital spokeswoman Anita Olfson said.
The commission approved a fixed price of $2,162.28 for the mother and $349.66 for the baby-regardless of how long they stay. Other hospitals are expected to file for a similar fixed rate, making the 48-hour stay the market standard.
St. Agnes said the program is needed because Maryland's year-old law requiring a 48-hour postpartum stay is weakened by a provision that allows insurers to provide a 24-hour stay followed by a home nursing visit.
The Maryland Legislature is considering a bill to require insurers to cover a second day for mothers who want it.
"We've seen no change in either the number of patients staying 48 hours instead of 24 or in the number of home visits," St. Agnes Obstetrics Department Nurse Manager Cathi Arshad said. "For whatever reason, many mothers just don't know that they're entitled to the visit at home."
The not-for-profit hospital said the program will cost $387,775, which will come from its bottom line-not from other patients. The not-for-profit hospital reported a $15.1 million profit in fiscal 1995.
In 1995, nearly 2,000 women delivered at St. Agnes.
St. Agnes kept the program in place as it awaited last week's vote by the commission, insisting it was on firm legal ground.
The state "just had a problem accepting that a healthcare organization would say to patients, `We'd like to give you something,"' Olfson said.