ASSEMBLY//HEALTH CARE | An Assembly bill steeped in the long-running fight to save one East Bay hospital failed passage Friday morning after several attempts. The bill authored by Fremont Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta would have standardized the reporting of charity care dollars by the state’s non-profit hospital providers.
The Legislature’s lower house voted down the bill, 36-26, on Thursday after three unsuccessful votes. It was also allowed reconsideration, but Wieckowski requested Friday morning to move the bill to the Assembly's inactive file. The entire East Bay delegation voted in favor of the bill.
AB 975 was inspired by a 2012 legislative audit that found no discernible standard for non-profit hospitals reporting the amount of charity care they provide the community. In exchange for highly-beneficial non-profit tax status for hospital providers, they must offer charity care to the uninsured and indigent. However, there are no rules over how much or how little they must give.
Although Wieckowski’s bill was gutted in committee to remove any teeth for penalizing hospitals if their levels of care is found to be deficient, on Thursday, he was critical of the hospital lobby and whispers among the opposing assembly members the proposed law would revoke provider’s non-profit status.
“What this bill does is provide guidance for standardizing the reporting of care that is provided without expectation of reimbursement,” Wieckowski said Thursday on the Assembly floor. Some Republican assembly members contend existing law already hold hospitals to reporting standards.
“That’s not what the auditor’s report said,” added Bonta, whose district includes San Leandro Hospital. “That’s not helpful. That’s fear-mongering. This [bill] does not do that. This is simply a reporting mechanism that requires hospital to report what their charity care is.”
In fact, a report released last year, which was requested by State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett and Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan found a glaring lack of accountability and transparency over the precise amount of charity care hospitals provide the community. The auditor’s report slammed some providers for including promotional materials in their accounting of community benefits.
To make this point, Wieckowski displayed a beige canvas shopping bag offered by a health care provider in his south county district at a local farmers’ market. “This is a very nice bag, indeed,” he said, “but it does not improve the health of my community, or I guess the question is, does it? I don’t know?”
The report was also seen as an avenue to attain leverage over Sutter Health with a veiled threat by Corbett and Chan to question its non-profit status. Although the audit focused on the issue state-wide, three of the four hospitals reviewed in the report were operated by Sutter Health.
In Alameda County, Hayward’s St. Rose Hospital is impacted greatly by some of the largest influxes of charity care patients in the region. While St. Rose’s economic health is somewhat stable after years of staggering losses, Assemblyman Bill Quirk said not all providers in his district are as charitable.
“In my district two of those non-profits take all-comers, do all the charity care and are a damn close to going out of business," said Quirk. "We have three non-profits doing very well and not doing their share. This is a bill to find out who is doing their share.”
Republicans, however, maintained Wieckowski’s bill would decrease care for the poor in the state and posed an opportunity for labor unions to undermine their health care employers.
Assemblyman Allen Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) called the bill a “power grab” by the nurses union and Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) was perturbed by a claim certain members, without backgrounds in health care, were pushing the bill with ulterior motives. Conway did not elaborate, but was so upset that she abruptly finished her remarks while hastily brushing away her mic.
“We didn’t just make this up,” said Wieckowski before the bill’s ultimate demise. “We didn’t just decide to go after all the non-profits to try to make them look bad. We’re not allowing accountants to make up figures that look good.”