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 month 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 says. 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, says 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 says.
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 last month. Wade agrees, 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 says.
Arizona is also the latest target in the Senate Finance Committees ongoing battle against specialty hospitals after the committee learned that more than 150 specialty-hospital patients were transferred to community hospitals for emergency-care services. In a form letter dated Aug. 23, Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the committee, and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committees ranking member, asked a series of questions of the Surgery Center of Scottsdale; Biltmore Surgical Center in Phoenix; Arizona Surgical Specialists Center in Tempe; Arizona Spine and Joint Hospital in Mesa; and Orthopedic Surgery Center of Arizona in Phoenix, after a Phoenix television station this summer reported that more than 150 patients in 10 area specialty hospitals were transferred because, according to the letter, the facilities were unable to handle their patients medical emergencies. The hospitals are required to answer a long list of questions, including if Medicare or Medicaid paid for any portion of patient care; if a physician was on duty at the time of the call; if the physician accompanied the patient to the hospital; and whether the patient suffered any permanent damage or harm. Baucus and Grassley had asked for a point of contact by Aug. 31.
A hospital ought to be able to treat complications quickly and on-site, or it shouldnt be called a hospital and allowed to perform serious surgery, Grassley said in a news release. The more I hear about surgery at specialty hospitals, the more concerned I am.What do you think? Write us with your comments at [email protected]. Please include your name, title and hometown.