Hospital Conversions Act hearing reveals policy chasm

Posted 4/5/12

PROVIDENCE – The Senate committee on Health and Human Services held a two-and-a-half-hour hearing on Wednesday to listen to public testimony on the amended version of Senate Bill No. 2180 – the Hospital Conversions Act.

The bill would make substantial changes regarding the manner Rhode Island’s nonprofit hospital systems can be purchased in the future.

On the surface of the hearing were changes sought by Steward Health Care that would enable the Boston-based hospital system to buy nonprofit hospitals in Rhode Island without having to wait the three years required under current law between purchases.

The language of the proposed bill made visible the fault lines in current debates regarding future health care policy and the role that government should play.

Since its initial purchase of six hospitals in November 2010, Steward - owned by a private equity firm Cerberus Capital Managementin New York City - has been aggressively expanding its hospital system, buying four more hospitals in Massachusetts during the last two years.

Steward’s application to purchase Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket is being reviewed by regulators at the R.I. Department of Health and the R.I. Attorney General’s office. On the day of the hearing, Steward announced that it was acquiring New England Sinai Hospital in Stoughton, Mass., a 212-bed long-term acute-care facility.

Much of the work to create the amended version of the proposed legislation was already accomplished behind closed doors in meetings between Senate policy staff and lobbyists, tweaking the language.

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