Two Democratic congressmen introduced a bill today that would prohibit physicians from referring patients to specialty hospitals in which they hold preferential financial interests. Reps. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and Jerry Kleczka (D-Wis.) introduced the Hospital Investment Act of 2003 to the House Ways and Means Committee's health subcommittee. In a statement, Stark said the bill is intended to plug the loopholes in existing laws that allow physicians, who already are prohibited from referring patients to clinical laboratories and diagnostic centers they own, to invest in for-profit specialty hospitals. Stark said the specialty hospitals are cannibalizing profitable business lines such as orthopedic surgery, cancer and cardiac care from community hospitals that depend on that business to finance charity care. Stark, who introduced a version of the bill in July 2001 that never passed, is the author of two laws known as Stark I and Stark II that prohibit physicians from referring patients to certain healthcare facilities in which they hold financial interests. Those laws were passed after studies concluded that physician referral patterns were influenced by their financial interests. Under the Stark-Kleczka bill, doctors could still invest in such facilities and refer patients to them, but only if the investment stakes also were opened to the general public. -- by Mark Taylor
Bill would ban some specialty hospital referrals
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