After what must have seemed like a brief reprieve, physician-owned hospitals are again embattled with Congress, with the opening round finding a way into the Childrens Health and Medicare Protection Act of 2007.
The Houses CHAMP Act, one of two bills in Congress that aims to reauthorize and fund the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, includes a provision that would eliminate the whole hospital exemption so that physicians cannot refer to hospitals where they have some ownership. It would also prevent existing hospitals from expanding; require physicians to disclose their ownership; and notify patients if a hospital doesnt have 24-hour physician coverage, according to a summary from the Commerce and Ways and Means committees.
In addition, those provisions in the much-touted House bill that passed last week could be a sneak preview of what the Democrats have in store for next years presidential election, according to Bob Wade, a partner with Baker & Daniels, a South Bend, Ind.-based law firm. Wade represents individual physicians who own hospitals and some physician-owned facilities.
Having a Democratic House, the healthcare agenda is starting to be established here, Wade said. Thats grim news for physician-owned hospital advocates who enjoyed a brief celebratory period a year ago with the August 2006 end of an extended moratorium on these facilities. Then Novembers midterm elections ushered in the new Democratic leadership. Frankly, most of our congressional champions have been Republicans, said Molly (Gutierrez) Sandvig, executive director of Physician Hospitals of America. While the group has not focused on lobbying solely Republicans, its view of a competitive, patient-centered model of care is more in line with their policy views, Sandvig said.
In the meantime, PHA will continue to lobby legislators to remove the language from the bill. But even if the group is successful, the physician-ownership issue will likely resurface later this year, Sandvig told PHA members during a conference call on Aug. 1. Wade agreed, saying he expects a stand-alone bill in the future.
This is such a monumental change, that my projection is that it would not survive this legislative session, Wade said.