Hospital, Privacy, and Profit

ACORN International Financial Justice Health Care Ideas and Issues
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            Marble Falls     The more we look hard at hospitals, the more worrisome we find their lack of priority for healthcare for their patients, which after all is the whole point of their existence.  Too many of these vitally necessary institutions seem to have lost their way and forgotten their mission.   ACORN and its partners have now issued studies on their lack of charity, despite the insistent demands of the Affordable Care Act and their impunity in either ignoring or gaming the CMS rules on pricing transparency, but it seems there are more problems that crop up every time we read the news.

Take the fact that private equity companies, like the giant Apollo, have decided there is a profitable seam in buying hospitals where there is a monopoly prospect as the only game in town, and then maximizing profit by increasing prices and limiting service.  Headlines trumpeting the good news that the USDA had awarded a record-breaking $37 million to Wyoming’s Riverton Medical District as part of their effort to build a new hospital brought smiles to all of our faces, until the story unfolded that the community had been forced in that direction after Apollo had stripped services from their old hospital, which they now owned, closing the facility to pregnancies for example.  I guess babies are not enough of a profit center.  Unfortunately, Riverton is the exception proving the rule.  Private equity concerns now own 25% of the hospitals in the United States and experts expect this percentage to grow. Riverton may get lucky, but the rest of us are in trouble.  We really need legislation blocking private equity from hospital ownership, if we’re willing to see our healthcare as a public good.

It’s interesting to me that when it comes to transparency in hospital operations, one of the limp defenses that they try to offer for their obfuscation and resistance to any oversight and accountability is privacy, more specifically the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).  Obviously, their argument is specious, but if you have any doubts even for a minute think of the plight of Lizelle Herrera of Starr County, Texas. This is the young woman who was criminally charged with murder recently for a “self-induced abortion.”  The district attorney apologized for the harm to her and withdrew the charges within days, but here’s the rub.  According to the Washington Post, the situation was triggered according to the “…district attorney’s statement that it was a hospital that reported Herrera to law enforcement…”   See what I mean?

The hospital acting as some kind of cop not only breeched Herrera’s most private health issues, it was even out of line on the law, as the Post continued to report:

Texas law explicitly exempts a woman from a criminal homicide charge for aborting her pregnancy. While many of the specifics of Herrera’s case remain unclear, even staunch antiabortion activists condemned her arrest. Texas Right to Life, the organization that helped draft the Texas abortion ban, said her indictment came as a surprise.

Unfortunately, none of us should be surprised.  Hospitals have set themselves outside of the law and any other concern for patients and the public when it comes to accountability.  I hope Ms. Herrera sues their socks off, but even if she does, this is a “bought lesson” for one Texas border hospital, but should be a warning to all of us that we need to take hospitals off the pedestal and instead regulate and supervise them like we mean it and believe that our health should be the number one priority.