Washington Hospital Mergers Subject To State Review

Jan 24, 2014

Starting Thursday, hospitals that plan to merge or form partnerships will now undergo state review as part of a new rule that takes effect this week. And nobody’s happy with the new regulations, not even the critics who called for change.

Rachel Berkson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, said the rules provide transparency and are a good first step. “But it doesn’t get to the heart of the problem, which is really an access issue,” she said.

The new rules were created in response to the growing number of hospitals affiliating with faith-based organizations. Berkson estimated that if all pending affiliations go through, nearly half of the state’s hospitals will be under a Catholic health care system. 

“What that means is that they’re governed by ethical, religious directives set by Catholic bishops, and when that is almost half of our health care system,” she said. “I think we need to look at providing some solutions and alternatives for folks who need very important, medically necessary care.”

In recent years hospitals have been forming partnerships to stay financially viable. The Washington State Hospital Association said without these deals, hospitals wouldn’t be able to make improvements and investments that ultimately serve patients.

“Consumer choices are affected if a hospital has to close or reduce services because it can’t afford to continue to provide those services,” Spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said.

The association worries that state review of future mergers will only make it harder for hospitals to work together. “The Affordable Care Act really incentivizes and really wants to see health care providers cooperate more,” said Clunies-Ross. “And one of the easiest ways is to agree that we’re two hospitals and we are going to work together to provide services.”

The new rules also require all hospitals to make public their policies on controversial procedures such as abortion or end-of-life care. The state has given hospitals 60 days to submit that information.