Mail merge

Stalled Bill Would Have Protected Reproductive Health During Hospital Merger

by Megan Burbank

When hospital systems merge, patients may lose access to essential medical treatments, including reproductive health care and medical assistance in dying. But a new bill introduced in this year’s legislative session offers a potential solution: a system of enhanced oversight and transparency that would require hospitals to set policies on these types of care before a merger is even approved. .

The Keep Our Care Act (SB 5688/HB 1809) would introduce new reporting requirements when merging health care systems, including documentation of potential reproductive health impacts, gender-affirming treatments, and end-of-life care. The bill would also require a decision from the Attorney General on how a proposed merger might impact patient care and, if a consolidation is approved, ongoing monitoring of compliance with affordability and access standards on a period of 10 years.

“We need to prioritize the health needs of people over the growth of big business,” the bill’s sponsor, Senator Emily Randall, said Tuesday, Jan. 18, at a public hearing on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which included stakeholders representing hospital management, reproductive rights advocacy, end-of-life care, right-wing activism, and medical workers.

Randall said hospital mergers threaten Washingtonians’ access to comprehensive medical care. Particularly in rural communities, she said, “mergers can take care — reproductive health care, gender-affirming treatment and end-of-life care — even further out of reach for residents.”

This is often true when mergers occur between secular and religious hospital systems, where certain types of care may be limited by guidelines based on religious doctrine rather than evidence-based medicine. Catholic hospitals, for example, follow Ethical and Religious Guidelines set by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which explicitly prohibit abortion care and medical assistance in dying.

In Kitsap County, where Randall District is located, she said, only residents served by the Naval Hospital have access to secular health care. The mergers, she said, “harm health care access and outcomes for our most vulnerable patients — Medicaid patients and people who are disproportionately people of color.”

Others at the hearing in support of the bill expressed concern that hospital mergers in the state have impacted Washingtonians’ access to emergency services and care. appropriate medical procedures for transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming patients.

Medical social worker Pattie Pritchard recalls having to take out a loan to pay for care for her child, who is transgender, because her employer, CHI Franciscan, did not offer coverage for gender-affirming care, a gap which she described as “discriminatory exclusion”. .” Lannette Sargent, the mother of an intersex child, put it this way: “It only takes one person to stop you from getting care.

Representatives of hospital systems and their professional organizations have spoken out in opposition, expressing concerns about the costs the bill would impose on hospitals, with some suggesting the legislation would force struggling clinics to shut down altogether.

Zosia Stanley, vice president and associate general counsel at the Washington State Hospital Association, called the bill a “radical regulatory scheme” that would be cumbersome.

Heavy lifting is nothing new if you work in healthcare.

The legislation is being considered at a time when hospital staff – particularly nurses – are increasingly exhausted from the onslaught of healthcare work during a pandemic. At the hearing, Katharine Weiss, a representative from the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), spoke in favor of the bill. “WSNA members are concerned that the rapid consolidation of our health care system will prevent them from doing their job to their full capacity,” she said.

It’s also worth noting that the need for access to reproductive health care – something hospital mergers often threaten – could be felt more acutely in the coming year if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade or dull its power.

Yvette Maganya of Planned Parenthood, speaking in support of the bill, said that if deer is gutted, abortion restrictions elsewhere will likely drive patients across state lines to seek care in Washington, potentially straining existing providers with increased demand for an oft-sacrificed healthcare service. when health care systems merge. Planned Parenthood would work to meet this surge in patients, she said. “But we cannot meet this need alone.”

Unfortunately, the Keep Our Care Act will not move this session forward. “While we’re disappointed it didn’t pass this year, complex bills like this often take a few years to develop and get the votes they need to pass both houses,” said Leah Rutman, health care and liberty adviser with the ACLU of Washington, of the bill’s trajectory. “We anticipate that next year could be the breakthrough year for this bill and the coalition is working hard with lawmakers to make that happen and to ensure access to quality, affordable care for everyone in Washington. “

Megan Burbank is a Seattle-based writer and editor. Before becoming a full-time freelancer, she worked as an editor and reporter at the Portland Mercury and the Seattle Times. She specializes in corporate reporting on reproductive health policy and stories at the intersection of gender, politics and culture.

📸 Featured Image: Illustration via ByEmo/ Editing by Emerald staff.

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