Hospital care in this country is sick. Sadly, old-fashioned medical “care” is giving way to the “big business” model. Nothing new about that. Profits are being exalted over patient care. Again, nothing new. But the news about Health Management Associates, a for-profit hospital chain based in Naples, Fla., is simply over the top.
The New York Times reports that, in order to entice their ER docs to drum up more profits, the hospital chain carefully tracked each physician’s ratio of admitting, versus not admitting, ER visitors for overnight stays. Worse, each physician had a visible-to-others color-coded “score card”: green (good grade), yellow (watch out!) or red (failing grade). “Green” docs were given bonuses while the reds’ jobs were on the line.
The goal? To inflate the company’s payments from Medicare and Medicaid by admitting patients who really don’t need to be admitted to a hospital, like — and this really happened — an infant whose temperature was a normal 98.7 degrees for a “fever”.
This is what happens when community based not-for-profit hospitals are transformed into large, corporate, profit-driven ones. Good health care is no longer the real goal – big profits are. Sure, there are advantages – economies of scale, efficiencies, some cost cutting – but at what price? Under this new model of health care, physicians become mere employees of large corporations who focus on making sick profits rather than making the sick profit from their services.
The head of the outfit — the genius who initiated the twisted color-coded reward system for ER docs — stepped down last year, but not before making $22 million in the last three years before he left.
Hello? Is there any justice out there? Well, some. Medicare and Medicaid, with the help of the Department of Justice, have sued the hospital chain to recoup payments. There may be criminal charges, too. But what about the patients who were persuaded to stay overnight for unneeded vigilance and testing? Can they sue for their lost time and the extra worry? Individually, probably not — the cost of litigation would overwhelm any potential recovery. But there may be a class action lurking out there somewhere.
Let’s hope so. A class action would be a nice shot-in-the-arm to this sick corporate hospital model.
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Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
mbk-law.com Central and Syracuse NY Medical Malpractice Lawyers
Michaels Bersani Kalabanka