For the past two years lawmakers have struggled to come up with a public policy that addresses the changing healthcare landscape. And while the Senate passed legislation its members felt would address many of the issues, their colleagues in the House aren’t so certain it includes everything they need to get there.
Late Thursday night, the Senate passed S.B. 811, a bill that was a bipartisan collaboration between Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Republican leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. It addressed a number of emerging issues regarding hospital and physician acquisitions, facility fees, and electronic record sharing.
Rep. Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said there’s no friction between the House and the Senate regarding the legislation, but “we have some ideas of our own.”
He said the House largely agrees with the legislation passed by the Senate, but “it’s a very big piece of legislation” and it has a fiscal note attached that the Appropriations Committee will have to account for as part of the budget.
Ritter said Friday the House is going over the 91-page bill this weekend and will be looking closely at the hospital acquisition and “certificate of need” process. He said he’s not sure whether it’s appropriate for some of the smaller hospitals to have to go through the same process as a large institution like Yale-New Haven Hospital. However, he said none of the differences between the two chambers are “earth shattering.”
The bill the Senate passed on a 30-5 vote Thursday night modifies the certificate of need process that entities would need to go through to acquire a hospital. It requires the Office of Health Care Access to look at market consolidation and the likely impact of a sale on prices in the healthcare industry. The market review was part of a different piece of legislation that was merged with the one the Senate passed Thursday.
The bill the Senate passed also included a proposal pitched by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that would require executive salary and bonuses to be disclosed before the sale of a hospital.
In addition to hospital acquisitions, the bill requires hospitals to share their electronic medical records with other providers. At the moment, hospitals are allowed to block providers who are not part of their larger network from sharing information about a patient. The bill also seeks to set up a statewide exchange for electronic medical record sharing, but it doesn’t propose spending any money. Instead, it asks the state’s information technology agency to develop a plan.
Fasano said he’s been working with Looney for a year on this legislation and it’s necessary because hospitals are buying up physician practices to the point where very few medical providers can afford to remain independent.
He said in New Haven County there are no private oncologists because they’re all owned by Yale-New Haven Hospital.
The price of chemotherapy for cancer patients has risen from $2,500 to $12,000 in just a few years in the New Haven area, according to Fasano, who added that the price jump is because one hospital network owns them all.
“It’s not a free marketplace and it is driving up costs considerably,” Fasano said.
Fasano said he’s not against the free marketplace, but when you regulate on one end you create a monopoly on the other.
He said they can’t wait another year for these reforms.
Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said he doesn’t feel comfortable voting in favor of a piece of legislation he was seeing for the first time last night. While he trusts it does what Looney and Fasano said it does, he needed time to make up his own mind.
Looney said nothing in the bill should come as a surprise to anyone because it has all been part of a larger conversation for more than year. He said those who continue to express opposition about the bill have a “very poor memory” or are engaged in a “scurrilous effort to disguise what the true facts are.”
Looney said the bill “will move us from the back of the pack toward the front in terms of enlightened policy regarding this ever-changing world of healthcare.”
He said healthcare is not something “you can opt in, or opt out of.” He said it’s something everyone needs at some point in their lives.