In one of the most contentious fights over a hospital-sales law, Rhode Island Democrats say they have enough votes to override the governor's veto of a measure making for-profit hospital companies wait three years before acquiring a second hospital in the state.
If Gov. Lincoln Almond's veto is overridden, Rhode Island would become at least the ninth state to pass legislation regulating sales of not-for-profit hospitals.
Calling it bad policy, Almond vetoed the Hospital Conversion Act last week. Rhode Island has 11 acute-care hospitals. All are private not-for-profit facilities, but two for-profit companies are negotiating acquisitions.
The bill was overwhelmingly approved earlier this year by both houses of the Democrat-controlled state General Assembly. The House of Representatives passed the bill 75-3; the Senate passed it 35-6.
Similar margins in another vote would override the Republican governor's veto.
Both houses reconvene for a special session the week of July 21, where "they intend to garner the votes to override it," according to a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Paul Kelly.
Meanwhile, the nation's two largest for-profit hospital companies are poised to acquire their first hospitals in Rhode Island. Those acquisitions wouldn't be affected by the proposed law.
Nashville-based Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., which owns two surgery centers in Rhode Island, has a year-old letter of intent to buy 152-bed Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence for $50 million.
Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet Healthcare Corp. is discussing potential deals with 175-bed Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket, R.I.
In vetoing the bill, Almond said it could prevent hospitals from continuing their mission in Rhode Island. "As a result of this act, one or more of the few remaining independent hospitals in Rhode Island will be unable to find a suitable partner needed to continue operation and may be forced to close or significantly reduce services, which would mean the loss of jobs and diminished access to care," he said.
"There is no sound basis for distinguishing between for-profit and nonprofit hospitals in terms of quality of care and access," Almond said. "There are good and bad hospitals among both for-profits and nonprofits. We must rely on our regular oversight of all hospitals to guarantee the high quality and access Rhode Islanders deserve and expect."