Several not-for-profit hospital groups have agreed to create an informal umbrella organization to coordinate future research, education and lobbying that promotes the value of tax-exempt hospitals.
Eight of the groups met last month in Atlanta to discuss the idea and agreed to invite other unnamed groups to join the organization. Another meeting is expected to be held later this month, said Daniel Bourque, senior vice president for information and research for VHA, an Irving, Texas-based hospital alliance that is spearheading the organization.
The not-for-profit groups include VHA; the Catholic Health Association; Intermountain Health Care, Salt Lake City; Voluntary Trustees of Not-for-Profit Hospitals, Washington; InterHealth, St. Paul, Minn.; Hospital Alliance of Tennessee, Nashville; the Association of Voluntary Hospitals of Florida, Tallahassee; and the Georgia Alliance of Non-Profit Hospitals, Atlanta.
"It was a good first step in getting a clear voice for not-for-profit hospitals," said Elliot Moore, president of the Hospital Alliance of Tennessee. "We hope other not-for-profit groups will join us."
Last year, VHA and SunHealth Alliance announced a similar effort to educate the public about not-for-profits (Feb. 20, 1995, p. 2). However, SunHealth dropped out last summer after agreeing to merge with American Healthcare Systems and Premier Health Alliance to form a superalliance now known as Premier (See related story, p. 5).
Bourque said the purpose of the new group is similar.
"All the groups have their own strategies," he said. "We thought it would be a good idea to pool resources."
During the meeting, representatives of the groups also heard preliminary findings of a VHA report that indicates "cream skimming" of profitable patients by physicians who own equity stock in Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. hospitals in Florida, several not-for-profit executives told MODERN HEALTHCARE (March 4, p. 14).
Under Columbia's physician investment program, individual physicians can own up to $150,000 in stock in a Columbia regional group for a combined maximum of 20% of the assets of the group.
Columbia officials in Nashville did not return phone calls.
Columbia officials previously have denied the cream-skimming charge and said physician investors admit more charity and Medicaid patients to Columbia hospitals than other physicians.
The VHA study was conducted by John Parker, an attorney with the law firm of Parker, Dobbs, Rainer and Dobbs. The Atlanta-based firm has conducted several reports for not-for-profit groups that tout their value over investor-owned hospitals.
Bourque confirmed that VHA has completed the report, which he described as the "pilot stage." He said the VHA report analyzed eight areas, including physician referral patterns at two Columbia hospitals in Miami over a three-year time period. He declined to name the hospitals or provide any further details of the study.
"It is very expensive to do," he said. "We don't have a time period when we will release it. We may fortify the data with more institutions."
Bourque said it was possible that the new organization might fund additional research for the VHA-sponsored study. "We don't have anything specific in mind except for this study," he said.
Meanwhile, the state of Florida's Agency for Healthcare Administration now says it will release its physician self-referral study later this month. The agency had said it wanted to wait until it looked at VHA's study.