Commission considers changes to hospital oversight

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(Host) State health care regulators are looking for new ways to control hospital spending. The review follows the disclosure that Vermont’s largest hospital misled state officials about the true cost of its redevelopment project.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Public Oversight Commission reviews hospital budgets and major spending proposals. In the case of Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, the commission reviewed a redevelopment project that later ballooned to $323 million. That’s $153 million more than the hospital got approval to spend.

On Wednesday, the commission asked a group of health care experts for advice on how to reform the oversight process. Policy analyst Jeanne Keller, a Fletcher Allen critic, says the system has failed. She says the commission relies on volunteers and is not equipped to deal with complex budgets.

(Keller) “As hard as you’ve tried, I don’t see what the contribution can be, other than perhaps besides misleading the public into believing there’s some meaningful oversight and input. I think that the role of representing the public needs to be done by a professional public advocate, the way we have in the structure in utility regulation. And a simple thing might be to declare hospitals [to be] utilities and put them right in there.”

(Dillon) Peter Cobb, who represents home health agencies, says the oversight commission has succeeded in controlling rising health care costs. Cobb says the Fletcher Allen situation doesn’t mean the entire regulatory system is broken:

(Cobb) “I think we forget that Vermont would be a much different place, and probably the health care system here would probably be much more expensive and much less efficient, if it hadn’t been for the various POCs over the years. The fact that one institution decided to end run the rules doesn’t make the rules necessarily bad.”

(Dillon) Commission Chairman David Yacovone says the panel will probably meet again in December and will make recommendations to the Legislature.

Yacovone says the advice was helpful, and that the commission may ask the Legislature for more staff to help review hospital budgets. He says the commission will also consider the idea of a state health plan that sets budget and health care priorities statewide.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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