(PHOTO by Christopher Capozziello/The New York Times)

Ga. Senate OKs bill to fund nonprofit hospitals, disclose finances

A bill that would require nonprofit hospitals — but not for-profit hospitals — to publish information such as their biggest administrative salaries has passed the Georgia Senate on a vote of 41-11. The measure, House Bill 321, also contains about $1 billion in extra hospital funding known as the “provider fee.” It now heads back to the House.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, said that since the nonprofit hospitals don’t pay taxes, the provisions would allow the public to ensure that the hospitals are putting their budgets toward “what we want them to do: take care of charity care, take care of rural communities.”

But the bill does not address the private health care businesses that not only provide government-funded care under Medicare and Medicaid but also receive tax abatements, such as Cancer Treatment Centers of America. A lobbyist for CTCA, Ray Williams, declined to comment.

Tillery, addressing exemptions for such hospitals from disclosure requirements, said, “We know they’re expected to make a profit.”

The transparency measures are also a step in the fight over certificate of need, or CON, which is heating up as the Legislature nears the end of the session on Tuesday. CON regulates expansion of hospital businesses in order to protect nonprofit hospitals. For-profit hospitals believe CON is unfairly restraining them from expansion even though a few of the nonprofits it protects are actually wealthy.

For example, at the same time some rural hospitals are shutting down services for lack of money, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is preparing to build a $1 billion facility and Northside Hospital, also in metro Atlanta, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire Gwinnett Medical Center.

The disclosure provisions were a surprise addition to HB 321 in committee, and lobbyists and some committee members later seemed taken off guard that a measure singling out nonprofits had just passed. The disclosures required would include the compensation packages of the hospitals’ top 10 paid administrators, detailed financial statements, and the location and price of land they own.

To create the “provider fee” Medicaid fund, about $350 million is collected from hospitals in order to accept an offer of 2-to-1 matching funds from the federal government. The two together form a $1 billion fund, which is then distributed to hospitals that treat large numbers of poor patients who are on Medicaid.

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.

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