By Ed Sealover (February 1st, 2019)
A bill to require hospitals to open up their financials for state and public inspection passed through the Colorado House of Representative on Thursday after the trade group for state hospitals agreed to support it — the second major instance this week of a business group dropping years-long opposition to a proposal that seems almost definite to pass through the newly Democratic-controlled Legislature.
The Colorado Hospital Association gave its support to House Bill 1001 after sponsoring Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, added five amendments during debate on the House floor this week to allow institutions to shield proprietary information on acquisition prices for facilities and physician practices and to limit their mandate to turn over per-hospital financial audits when the audit is done on a parent company as a whole. While the changes got CHA on board with the bill, it did little to convince skeptical Republicans who believe the measure’s increased regulations will lead to increased costs and a continuing lack of consumer transparency; Rep. Matt Soper of Delta was the only GOP representative who joined Democrats in voting to move the bill on to the Senate on Thursday.
Still, the agreement between the CHA and Kennedy to get hospitals behind a bill that requires them to open for public viewing everything from their surgical revenues to their overall costs of building new facilities to the amount of unreimbursed care they provided — all so that consumers, employers and state regulators can examine ways to pressure the industry to bring down costs — was a major step in the debate over health costs.
“This bill demonstrates hospitals’ commitment to finding solutions to Colorado’s health-care affordability crisis, and it’s an important first step — but certainly not the last one — to expand transparency into how the health-care market works,” CHA senior vice president Katherine Mulready said in a statement after the amendments were added to the bill on Tuesday.
Newly inaugurated Gov. Jared Polis has made health-care affordability his top priority during his first month in office, so much so that he issued an executive order last week creating an Office of Saving People Money on Health Care, listing passage of the hospital transparency act as one of its primary aims.
While health-care costs are rising across the board, many business leaders in particular have begun to focus on hospitals as a particular sore spot. A Colorado Business Group on Health study that Denver Business Journal detailed last year showed that privately insured patients are paying 66 percent more on average than Medicaid and Medicare patients at facilities throughout the state and that some common procedures cost as much as seven times the rate of Medicare reimbursement as they are billed to private payers.
House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, criticized HB 1001 because it allows state regulators to see aspects of hospitals’ finances to which they’ve never had access before, but it does very little to increase transparency to consumers of why the costs on their bills can be so high.
Kennedy said that because only a limited number of consumers price-shop when getting health care — and then, it’s largely on elective procedures — he believes that allowing state-government leaders to understand hospitals’ pricing and spending can help them to craft policies that can bring down costs for all residents.
The CHA’s backing of HB 1001 came the same week that major business groups such as the Colorado Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business dropped what had been three years of opposition to a proposal to prohibit employers from asking on application forms whether job seekers have criminal records. The groups went neutral on the “ban the box” bill after getting several concessions from its authors, including a provision that disputes involving criminal-record inquiries must go to a state administrative board rather than be adjudicated in court.
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