State auditors examine Georgia hospitals’ expenses on lobbying

The Georgia State Capitol, where hospitals and their opponents spend millions lobbying. (PHOTO by BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM)
The Georgia State Capitol, where hospitals and their opponents spend millions lobbying. (PHOTO by BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM)

Georgia hospitals fund one big expense that most patients probably don’t think about as they’re handing over their co-pays: lobbying.

A report released by state auditors as lawmakers started a new legislative session showed that in one recent year the state’s hospitals spent more than $7 million trying to influence legislation.

Their opponents are out there, too. They all say they’re protecting patients’ interests.

Perhaps their biggest lobbying battle in recent years was the fight Georgia hospitals waged against Cancer Treatment Centers of America's attempts to loosen regulations that protect the bottom lines of nonprofit hospitals. Over that time, state records show CTCA hired at least 38 lobbyists. CTCA won the looser regulations in last year's session.

The review also highlighted the pay disparity between big hospital CEOs and small hospital CEOs. It found that many hospital executives in Georgia received slightly higher pay than their counterparts in other states, though some received lower pay.

The disclosures were required after the years-long legislative fight over hospital regulations led frustrated lawmakers to require certain not-for-profit hospitals to list the salaries of their 10 highest-paid employees, as well as other financial data such as debts and charity care policies.

Auditors found that 77 of Georgia’s 184 hospitals were subject to the review, which applies to hospitals that received more than $5 million from the Georgia Medicaid and PeachCare programs.

The analysis found that top executives at those hospitals receive a median salary of between $240,000 and $475,000 per year, which is near the national average.

Different companies evaluate salary information, and the audit looked at two of those companies’ benchmarks. One company showed Georgia hospital executives were mostly lower than the Southeast average, and the other company found they were mostly higher. Both companies found that Georgia chief medical officers are paid higher on average than the Southeast average.

The CEOs of the largest Georgia health systems received an average cash compensation of $1.5 million. The salary for those executives in hospitals with more than $500 million in revenue was almost two-thirds higher than the average $564,000 in compensation received by CEOs of Georgia hospitals with less than $500 million in revenue.