OPINION: Protect Patients & Even The Playing Field For All NJ Hospitals

By Marilyn Askin, Chief Legislative Associate for AARP New Jersey

Hospital patients have enough on their minds. While being wheeled into the operating room, they’ll often be anxiety-ridden, pondering questions such as: “Will my procedure go smoothly? Will there be complications? Will I be in pain when I wake up?” One thing, however, that patients should not have to wonder about at moments like this, when positive thinking is paramount, is who is monitoring the hospital’s spending of its public funding dollars and ensuring that the patient receives the highest possible quality of care.

But guess what? In New Jersey we do have to think about this because of a little known and perhaps unintended disparity in our state laws.

Non-profit hospitals who receive in-patient and out-patient charity care assistance funding from the State government, i.e., taxpayers, to care for the uninsured are required by law to report financial and governance disclosures to the New Jersey Department of Health along with sources and expenditures of funds. This makes sense. Transparency and accountability to the very communities that hospitals serve, and which support the care provided, is key to securing the public trust when it comes to spending our public dollars on health care.

It wasn’t that long ago when all of New Jersey’s hospitals were non-profit institutions and thus every hospital that received public charity care dollars reported the same information. New Jersey, however, is now home to a number of for-profit hospitals. The growing trend of for-profit takeovers of community hospitals has had a significant impact on our communities’ access to affordable and high-quality care, affordability, and quality.

For-profit hospitals also receive charity care assistance funding from the state treasury – at last count about $70 million a year. And these are not the only public dollars these hospitals rely on – there is Medicare, Medicaid, and state funded hospital stabilization funds available to hospitals in real financial trouble. However the current law and regulations do not require these for-profit institutions to disclose the same information as their non-profit counterparts. Yet this information is essential to ensure that these hospitals are not cutting costs at the expense of patient care. Consumers, elected officials, and state regulators need this important information to make choices and decisions based on full and accurate information about the finances of our hospitals – and how they allocate public dollars for patient care.

Senate Bill S782, The New Jersey Hospital Disclosure and Public Resource Protection Act, sponsored by Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-31) and Assemblyman Ruben Ramos (D-33), seeks to correct this disparity. This public disclosure bill, which has received strong bi-partisan support, is on Governor Christie’s desk awaiting his signature. The legislation, if signed, would require that for-profit hospitals disclose the same financial information as non-profit institutions. The law will level the playing field for non-profit and for-profit hospitals.

Governor Christie only has a few weeks left to sign The New Jersey Hospital Disclosure and Public Resource Protection Act into law. AARP, along with a coalition of civic leaders, healthcare advocates, health professionals, and elected officials are urging the Governor to sign this important bill so we can help to ensure that New Jersey residents are getting the best hospital care possible based on the dollars we give all of these institutions to invest – and so that patients can rest a little easier.

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