Asbury Park Press

Hospital Finance Bill Conditionally Vetoed

Asbury Park Press — Thursday, August 9, 2012

Written by
Bob Jordan
Asbury Park Press

TRENTON — Community groups and consumer advocates were dealt a setback Wednesday when Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed legislation stepping-up financial disclosure requirements for for-profit hospitals.

Christie instead wants to give Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd six months to study the issue and make a recommendation.

Proponents of the bill say it's unlikely a study by O'Dowd, a Christie appointee, will lead to a new law. Seven of the 72 hospitals in the state are in the hands of for-profit companies, and that group vigorously opposes the change.

None of the for-profits are in Monmouth or Ocean Counties but Jeff Brown, policy and communications coordinator for New Jersey Citizen Action, said having uniform transparency laws for hospitals "will have statewide implications in the future, as for-profits become more common.''

Bill sponsor Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said she was disappointed with Christie's action.

"The intent is to ensure that the public is able to find out for themselves where public health dollars are going, and how those dollars are being spent,'' Weinberg said.

But Christie in his veto message expressed fears the law would be unwelcoming to for-profit sources of health care.

"I believe this bill fails to address the need for greater public access to the practices of all health care providers that benefit from state funding,'' Christie said. "The changes proposed by this bill require careful consideration to prevent the state from over-reaching into the business arena, while still acknowledging the importance of transparency for institutions receiving state funds.''

The proposal would have required all hospitals in the state to disclose their finances as a condition for receiving charity-care payments from the state, a condition already met by non-profits.

All hospitals receiving charity care would report their funding sources and revenues, their expenditures, the vendors they deal with, and who sites on corporate boards.

"The public has a legitimate interest in how for-profit hospitals spend public money,'' Weinberg said. "(Christie) believes businesses shouldn't have to answer to the public, even though a significant revenue source for that business is public money. I believe otherwise.''

"If a hospital is going to apply for millions of dollars in charity care payments, then the public deserves to know that the money being spent is going into the operating room, and not the board room,'' Weinberg added.

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