Commission to look at quality of hospital care

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(Host) Budgets for Vermont’s 14 hospitals are up by an average of 10%.

And consumer advocates want a state oversight commission to look at the quality as well as the cost of care.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Every August in Montpelier, a citizen panel called the Public Oversight Commission digs into the details of hospital budgets.

The annual review starts with a briefing from Michael Davis, an analyst with the state division of Health Care Administration. His computer flashes dozens of slides on a screen showing numbers big, small or – as Davis sometimes says – “scary.”

(Davis) “Here’s the trend in net patient revenues just to show you where things are in the context of history. These are the year to year changes over that period.”

(Dillon) Hospital budgets are up by 10% this year, for total operating expenses of about $1.4 billion. Driving the increase are higher salaries, more employees, and greater use of hospital resources.

And to pay for the bigger budgets, hospitals want to raise rates an average of 7%. That’s about the same as last year’s increase.

The commission this year is being asked to broaden its work to look at the quality of care that $1.4 billion buys.

Frank Mazur is a former legislator from South Burlington and a member of the oversight panel. He wants to link hospital rates to hospital performance.

(Masur) “And we ought to be able to make some assessments in terms of the performance of hospitals and the charges that they make in terms of how much they’re asking for increases in the budget. And we should act accordingly if their performance is not that great. We should make recommendations to the commissioner to make that sure he asks for corrective action plans and ask for specific quality improvements.”

(Dillon) Information that’s now publicly available shows a wide variety in hospital charges. It costs almost twice as much, for example, to be treated for pneumonia in St. Johnsbury than it does in St. Albans. The data – available on a state web site – also show how well Vermont hospitals do in meeting national quality of care benchmarks.

Representative Anne Donahue, a Republican from Northfield, helped write the law that requires hospitals to provide performance data.

She told the commission that the law empowers the panel to look at both cost and quality.

(Donahue) “You hold the unique public role of being able to ask the hard questions and being able to demand more than superficial answers. For hospitals that are not meeting benchmark standards and not addressing deficient areas, forewarned should be forearmed. Your message to them about their burden to demonstrate that they meet expected standards should be explicit.”

(Dillon) But John O’Kane, the chairman of the oversight commission, was reluctant to expand the panel’s review. He said the commission has a huge workload already.

(O’Kane) “That there be some connection between quality and some review of overall performance makes sense. I’m not sure that an actual budget hearing process is the right way or the right venue to do that.”

(Dillon) The commission will hold three days of budget hearings later this month. The state will set hospital budgets in September.

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

Related Link
Act 53 Hospital Report Cards

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