Hospital chief: Feds’ rules burdensome for St. Mary’s

Complying with federal requirements is a growing burden at St. Mary’s Hospital, the head of St. Mary’s told U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo.

Tipton toured the hospital with St. Mary’s CEO and President Mike McBride on Wednesday, including one of the floors of the hospital’s Century Project. St. Mary’s is planning to spend more than $40 million to complete two of the four open floors, as well as improve the helicopter pad and other emergency services.

One thorn in the side of St. Mary’s operations is dealing with audits of patients’ records by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services aimed at rooting out fraud, McBride said.

In 2012, the federal agency pulled 927 patient charts, and the money paid to the hospital for the services described in them, for examination.

The agency found no problems on 387 charts and returned $3.81 million to the hospital, McBride said. The hospital has appealed findings on about 400 charts containing about $300,000 in disputed charges. The payments represented in the charts remain in limbo.

So far in 2013, 522 charts representing $2.2 million have been pulled for auditing, McBride said.

“We don’t disagree with the intent of the program,” McBride said, but the audits, which are conducted by third-party auditors, “have become incredibly burdensome for hospitals.”

The audits aren’t tied to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, McBride said.

The Affordable Care Act’s conscience clause, though, is troublesome for Catholic hospitals such as St. Mary’s because it provides no clear way for the hospital to refuse to provide abortifacient drugs that violate Catholic teachings.

Qualifying under the conscience clause is like “trying to go through the eye of a needle,” McBride said.

The House has now voted 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but not all of those measures have been hollow, Tipton said,

Included among them was the repeal of a reporting requirement that would have harmed small businesses, a measure that Obama ultimately signed.

One thing that St. Mary’s could not withstand is a reduction in Medicare reimbursements, McBride said.

Much of the $40 million a year the hospital writes off as charitable care is money that would otherwise complete the gap between Medicare payments and the hospital’s actual costs, he said.

Some elements of the Affordable Care Act also could benefit the hospital, he said.

McBride also urged Tipton to continue supporting a measure that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to contract with other health care providers.

A cooperative arrangement between the VA and St. Mary’s could save money in the VA and make treatment more convenient for veterans, McBride said.


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