Bill would let companies buy RI hospitals in bulk
I’ve been talking about the Hospital Conversions Act a lot lately. That’s because Steward Health Care System can’t buy Landmark Medical Center until it gets permission from state regulators. The Hospital Conversions Act guides that decision.
(If you need more background, check out my earlier post.)
This week, three senators sponsored a bill in the General Assembly that would alter the Hospital Conversions Act. The legislation doesn’t do much to the actual process for approving a hospital merger or sale; it’s more concerned with how many hospitals a for-profit can buy in a given year. Here’s what the proposed legislation says-
Notwithstanding any other provision in this chapter, nothing herein shall be construed to prohibit a for-profit hospital, its subsidiaries or affiliates, from applying for, and receiving approval of a conversion of more than one hospital in the same year, or any subsequent year, and each such application shall require review and approval from the department of attorney general, and from the department of health in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.
This act shall take effect upon passage.
Basically, the bill would make it possible to buy more than one hospital in a year, or within multiple years. Right now, for profits have to buy one hospital at a time and wait three years until they try to purchase another.
Now why would Senators Picard, Ruggerio, and Cote introduce this legislation? Is there someone out there that wants to buy Rhode Island Hospitals in bulk? Two for the price of one? Buy one, get one half off?
Two of these senators are from Northern Rhode Island- Picard represents Woonsocket and Cote represents North Smithfield. Might this have something to do with Landmark’s buyer? Nothing confirmed yet.
I’ve been told the HCA three year waiting period existed so regulators could watch a for profit in action- did it keep all those promises it made when it bought the first hospital? The regulation was meant to prevent an outsider from suddenly and completely overtaking our health care system. But that was then.
Now, community hospitals in Rhode Island are struggling. They can’t bargain for the same reimbursement rates that hospital networks can. For many, the solution lies in being a part of a larger system. Is it better to let one for profit own most of them or watch many for profits buy them up and further fragment the system?
Then again, do we want to give an outside for-profit company that much power? And if we change our standards for these companies, should we protect our own kind and make it easier for non-profits like Lifespan and Care New England to merge?
Tricky questions in an era where health care is changing. Would you support this legislation?