Up For Debate at the State Capitol: Community Impact of For-Profit Hospital Conversions & Using the Buying Power of CT’s Health Exchange

There are a few legislative issues that the Foundation is keeping an eye on during the 2014 session.  In the past month, we have submitted testimony in favor of two bills: House Bill 5257 – An Act Concerning Hospital Employees and Hospital Conversions and Senate Bill 11 – An Act Concerning the Duties of the Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange.

The Foundation believes, along with other advocates, that these bills are worth supporting since they touch on bigger issues regarding access to quality, affordable health care for the residents of the state.  Most importantly, they challenge the state to use its power to protect the interests of the community at-large, as well as the individual consumer.

The hospital bill (HB 5257) was raised as a direct result of the proposed purchase of at least one of the state’s nonprofit hospitals, Waterbury Hospital, by an out-of-state, for-profit hospital group, Tenet.  To date, only one hospital in the state, Sharon Hospital, is a for-profit entity.  The February 27 public hearing testimony focused on concerns that the loss of control of a valuable community asset to for-profit interests could undermine the skilled staff of the local hospital and access to quality care for people in the hospital’s service area.  In particular, the Foundation urged the state legislature to require for-profit hospitals to conduct Community Health Needs Assessments, which nonprofit hospitals are required to do under the Affordable Care Act.  We also supported an open, transparent approval process for proposed hospital conversions, including the completion of a community impact assessment by an independent third party.  The bill originated in the Labor Committee and must be voted out to move forward.

The health insurance exchange bill (SB 11) represents a continuing effort to require the state’s exchange, Access Health CT, to use its leverage to better serve consumers and negotiate premiums with insurers wishing to offer health plans via Access Health CT.  Numerous advocacy groups argued at the February 18 public hearing that our state could do much better if it negotiates – particularly since Connecticut has the 4th highest health insurance premiums in the nation.  The Foundation also testified that Access Health CT could negotiate with health insurers to improve quality of care and health outcomes via the exchange marketplace.  The bill was watered down at the Insurance Committee’s meeting on February 25 to postpone for one year the requirement that Access Health CT negotiate premiums.  The state’s Insurance Department argued that it is the entity charged with reviewing premiums.  Advocates continue to push for passage of a bill that requires “active purchasing” by Access Health CT this year.

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