Lawmakers urged to require hospitals to open meetings

April 10, 2013

Burlington Free Press
Written by Nancy Remsen, Free Press Staff Writer

MONTPELIER: Ethan Parke of Montpelier, a director of Vermont Health Care for All, urged lawmakers Wednesday to require the state’s nonprofit private hospitals to open meetings of their governing boards to the public.

The public has a stake in the decisions that hospitals make, Parke said, noting that more than $800 million in public funds is spent in private hospitals through the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
And the reason to mandate opening meetings in hospitals and not other nonprofits, Parke said, was the money. “It is about the money, the staggering amount of money that pours through our hospitals annually.”

Jill Olson, vice president for policy with the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, argued that it was neither necessary nor likely legal to extend the state’s public meeting law to private hospitals.
Olson said there are many ways that hospitals are accountable to the public through regulation. “What is it that people don’t know that they need to know?”

Both the House and Senate health care committees listened to Parke and Olson on the public meeting question, part of a morning of presentations on hospital billing.

Speaking later, the heads of both panels suggested extending the public meeting law to hospitals wasn’t anything they intended to pursue.

“Transparency is always an important value we should be advancing, but applying the open meeting law to hospitals presents many questions,” House Health Care Chairman Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, said. “I don’t think it is the right tool,” he continued, adding, “I have yet to hear what people want.”

Contact Nancy Remsen at 578-5685 or nremsen@burlfingtonfreepress.com.