In declaring their support for a bill that would make it harder for federal investigators to go after hospitals that allegedly submit false Medicare claims, American Hospital Association lobbyists have been careful to say the AHA has "zero tolerance" for hospitals that commit fraud.
But last week, AHA President Richard Davidson said his group wouldn't back up that stance. He told MODERN HEALTHCARE it was unlikely the AHA would kick out a member even if it were found to have defrauded Medicare.
"By expelling members I don't know what you would get," he said. "It is better to leave them in and try to improve (their) performance."
In a follow-up call, Richard Wade, AHA senior vice president for communications, clarified Davidson's comments, saying the AHA does have a provision in its bylaws to expel a member "for cause" after a hearing before the AHA's board of trustees.
However, Wade added that for a hospital to reach a level of cause sufficient to trigger a hearing would be virtually impossible.
"It couldn't just be a few executives. It would have to be pervasive and have the complicity of the (hospital) board of trustees," Wade said.
Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, has been critical of an AHA-backed bill to make it harder for federal officials to fine hospitals that commit fraud.
Stark said he doubted the AHA was serious about fighting fraud and said it was reluctant to expel members because one of its biggest dues payers-Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.-was under investigation by federal authorities.
When asked if the AHA's credibility as an opponent of fraud would be hurt by its relatively weak enforcement mechanism and support for a bill mitigating federal anti-fraud enforcement, Davidson conceded "it may."
Stark was more certain.
"You don't comport with felons and then hold your head up as a good citizen," Stark said. He added that he thought the AHA should expel any member convicted of fraud.