World and Nation

Republican bill would benefit doctor-owned hospitals

WASHINGTON — The House Republican bill to hold down payroll taxes and extend unemployment benefits, coming up for a vote Tuesday, offers a special dispensation to doctors who invest in hospitals.

The bill would repeal and relax several provisions of the 2010 health care law that clamped down on doctor-owned hospitals. The bill would allow such hospitals to open if they were under construction at the end of last year, and it would allow them to expand if they were already in existence.

Congressional aides say dozens of hospitals and their physician owners could benefit.

Numerous studies have found that when doctors have a financial stake in a hospital, they tend to order more tests and procedures, raising costs for Medicare and other insurers.

The provision of the House bill allowing the spread and expansion of doctor-owned hospitals would increase federal spending by $300 million over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office said.

Dr. Michael E. Russell II, president of Physician Hospitals of America, a trade group for doctor-owned institutions, said the 2010 law “limits access to care,” at a time when the need for it will increase because of the expansion of coverage. More than 30 million Americans are expected to gain insurance under the 2010 health care law.

Russell said the House Republican bill would benefit 25–30 hospitals that were under construction but had not opened. In addition, he said, more than half of the 270 existing doctor-owned hospitals want to expand, and they too could benefit.

But Rep. Pete Stark of California, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, said the provision dealing with doctor-owned hospitals was “a special interest giveaway.”

“These facilities have caused patient deaths and are proven to increase unnecessary utilization, thus increasing costs,” Stark said. “Yet Republicans spend $300 million to allow more of these facilities to exist and enable all of them to easily continue to expand. That’s bad for America’s health but good for special interests.”

As Democrats examined the House Republican bill on Monday, they found much to criticize, ensuring a partisan battle in both houses. Many Senate Democrats oppose a provision intended to speed approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, running from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast.

Several Democratic senators said they hoped to see a deal under which Republicans would drop the pipeline if Democrats dropped their demand for a surtax on individual income in excess of $1 million a year.