CHARITY CARE: Attorney General Disputes Consumers Union Report on Hospitals
Consumers Union and the state Attorney General's office --usually allies on health care issues -- are at odds over the methodology of a recent CU report that said charity care drops dramatically after a hospital undergoes a for-profit conversion. Deputy Attorney General Chester Horn, who supervises such hospital transfers, told the Assembly Health Committee "that Consumers Union used incomplete data and improper definitions of charity care in its report," and made "much more damaging allegations" after the hearing: He said CU used quarterly report data from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, "even though it is widely known the quarterly reports often contain large discrepancies" because tight deadlines often lead to the omission of reports on charity care. He added that CU "often used more- reliable annual reports to gauge charity care before the hospitals were purchased but used less-reliable quarterlies to measure that care after the purchases."
Horn pointed to one instance where the CU report "neglected to cite care hospitals provided under county-sponsored indigent-care programs," and said, "I believe Consumers Union used information that was not reliable," though he said he "was uncertain" whether the group did so deliberately. Lead CU researcher Julio Mateo conceded that he compared the sometimes-inaccurate quarterly data with annual reports, but noted "that was all that was available when he conducted his research." Horn said that he "didn't disagree with all the report's conclusions," and praised recommendations to bring "the public more into the loop on hospital deals." He added that the case demonstrated the need for better data, saying, "We need to have a more uniform way of reporting charity care and its impact on the public." Mateo said, "As regrettable as Mr. Horn's comments were, they highlight a need for more uniform reporting of data" (Shinkman, Modern Healthcare, 6/21 issue).