What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
State lawmakers who insist on public oversight of hospital mergers would be well served to follow the model recently signed into law in Arizona.
Beginning in July, Arizona hospitals involved in a sale or merger face open hearings, regardless of whether the buyer is a for-profit or not-for-profit company. This level-playing-field approach differs from proposals in Congress and some of the other 15 states considering such legislation. Those bills would focus scrutiny only on deals involving for-profit buyers.
Restricting such oversight assumes all transactions between not-for-profit hospitals are squeaky clean and in the best interests of taxpayers and the communities served by the merging organization. History shows that isn't always the case.
Another reason for supporting the Arizona approach is the state attorney general is not given veto power over hospital transactions. The court of public opinion, leadership from the healthcare community and competitive pressures should ensure that sensible deals get done. Heavy-handed posturing by aggressive attorneys general, some of them with lofty political aspirations, can queer the process.
Arizona's law will allow testimony from the attorney general at public hearings. Merging hospitals must disclose details of the deal and pay the cost of the hearing, which will be supervised by a neutral party selected by the state and the merger partners. The information also must be sent to the state health department and added to the public record.
Considering the role and tradition of local hospitals, such sunshine seems reasonable.