Want to know the effects of for-profit hospital conversions?
The latest edition of Health Affairs gives two answers.
The journal's March/April edition contains two studies that reach differing conclusions about the effect of for-profit ownership on teaching hospitals and uncompensated care.
One study found that for-profit ownership had no measurable negative effect on medical education, research or indigent care at teaching hospitals.
Another study concluded there was a "significant decline" in the level of uncompensated care provided at formerly public hospitals that converted to for-profit status.
But the discrepancy isn't hard to explain, said an author of one of the studies.
"Our samples are different," said Kamal Desai, a research associate at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Boston University School of Public Health, whose study looked at public hospitals.
Desai's study examined 52 public hospitals in three states that privatized to either not-for-profit or for-profit status, while the other study looked at the sale of three teaching hospitals to for-profit owners between 1984 and 1997 in Louisiana, Nebraska and the District of Columbia.
The study on academic medical centers was done by David Blumenthal, M.D., director of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital/Partners HealthCare System in Boston, and Joel Weissman, a senior scientist at the institute.
Blumenthal and Weissman concede their study bucks conventional wisdom that assumes for-profit chains won't support teaching, research and indigent care.
"For-profit purchasers seem to have concluded that supporting (academic medical centers') social missions is part of the acquisition cost of these institutions and is justified by the likely return on their investment, in both monetary and public relations terms," the study said.