The American Hospital Association continued to take knocks for asking HHS to clarify regulations concerning discounts to uninsured patients. Speaking before a Federation of American Hospitals meeting today, HHS' acting principal deputy inspector general, Dara Corrigan, said federal law clearly allows discounts for uninsured patients. "You can criticize the antikickback statute for many things, but you can't criticize it for being ambiguous," Corrigan said. Corrigan also outlined some areas of hospital activity that her office will be reviewing, including the propriety of transferring a patient to multiple healthcare facilities during one incident of illness. Citing events at Redding (Calif.) Medical Center, where two cardiac surgeons allegedly performed unnecessary procedures, she said quality-of-care issues also will be reviewed more frequently.
The AHA in December asked HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson for guidance on providing discounts to the uninsured and received a brusque letter in response last month accompanied by six pages of question-and-answer guidance -- short of the legal safe harbor the association had requested. Corrigan said the AHA's use of the media during the debate was "not the best way to engender a good relationship" with federal officials. Speaking to reporters after the same meeting Tuesday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) called the AHA request for guidance a "clear cop-out." Asked for a response to the comments, AHA spokeswoman Alicia Mitchell said, "We asked for some guidance and the secretary has given that to us and we appreciate it. With the guidance in hand there shouldn't be any confusion and we're moving ahead." -- by Tony Fong