May 26, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Hospitals need to show leadership

(Continued from page 1)

"They are a key element," Eves said. "If they want both (the debt repayment and expanded Medicaid coverage), this is their opportunity. And if they don't, they made a poor choice."

Added Alfond: "They have a huge role to play in the next three to five days."

That could mean a rapid response force of hospital CEOs calling Republican lawmakers between now and Tuesday, when the Senate will vote on the veto override, and reminding them that what's good for LePage in 2014 might not be so good for them.

It could also mean descending on the State House on Tuesday morning and, once and for all, getting out from under the thumb of a governor whose behavior grows more erratic by the day.

(Moving out of his office? Prohibiting his commissioners from speaking to the Legislature? Rather than enabling LePage, the hospital execs should be figuring out a way to involuntarily admit him.)

Even Austin, the association's political point man, concedes that LePage's obsession with paying off the hospital debt has a lot more to do with politics -- as in, "I'm the guy who pays the bills" -- than with the fiscal health of Maine's medical facilities.

"He's not in love with us," Austin said, noting that LePage's budget proposal includes $50 million in lost state and federal revenue for the hospitals over each of the next two years. "He doesn't hate us, but he doesn't love us. He likes this issue."

Put more simply, LePage is using the hospitals to feather his own political nest -- and they know it.

At the same time, he's using his veto to once again demonize people who have the gall to need health care without having the means to pay for it -- and the hospitals know that, too. (What's worse, they end up absorbing those costs in the form of charity care.)

Yet there the Maine Hospital Association sits as a win-win disintegrates into a lose-lose, timidly claiming there's nothing it can do to resolve this standoff.

"This thing's broken," Austin said. "And it's going to take leadership to pick it up and put it back together."

Hear that, hospital CEOs? That's not just your guy in Augusta talking.

It's your mission statement calling.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


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