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Two Hernando hospitals accused of 'price gouging'

Published:   |   Updated: January 8, 2014 at 10:57 AM

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BROOKSVILLE - Two Hernando County hospitals are ranked among the 10 most expensive hospitals in the United States, according to a study conducted by National Nurses United.

The organization's study places Brooksville Regional Hospital as the seventh most expensive hospital in the country, and Oak Hill Hospital as the 10th most expensive.

The study listed the 10 most expensive, and was based on data submitted by more than 4,300 private and public hospitals to the federal government, said Charles Idelson, a spokesman for the group that touts itself as "the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in U.S. history."

There are three other Florida hospitals on the list.

Also among the top 10 most expensive hospitals, according to the study, are Orange Park Medical Center in Orange Park at third, North Okaloosa Medical Center in Crestview at fourth, and Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center in Davenport at eighth.

"When you consider most hospitals set their costs lower, like public hospitals in a way these private corporations are not, it's obvious they don't have to set their charges at these extremely high rates," said Idelson.

Six of the nine most expensive hospitals are part of two large hospital chains - Community Health Systems and Health Management Associates - which currently are pursuing a merger that the NNU said could drive prices higher.

Brooksville Regional Hospital is part of Health Management Associates or HMA.

In a statement in response to the NNU's study, HMA officials said the study overlooks the complexities of hospital reimbursements.

"Our hospitals are committed to providing patients with great care in the most efficient way we can," HMA officials wrote in an email. "Looking at charge data in isolation does not take into account a full picture of the complex reimbursement environment with which all hospitals must operate."

The HMA further stated that, when considering the vast services provided to patients, the revenue collected is reasonable.

"Realistically, all hospitals only collect a small percentage of charges," they said.

Oak Hill Hospital did not provide a statement before press time.

Nurses from across the country are protesting a shareholder meeting of both HMA and Community Health Systems, or CHS, at the Ritz Carlton golf resort in Naples.

Tara Evans, a registered nurse at a CHS hospital in Greenbrier, West Virginia, will be one of 15 nurses protesting the meeting.

"CHS and HMA target rural areas where patients have less options for their care, so they are in a way creating a monopoly when they go to merge, so it's not right," she said. "That way they can afford to charge patients for multiple times what the rate would be, and that's not good for them either, because some of them are barely making it as it is."

Evans said she was motivated to protest the meeting due to a lack of supplies in the hospital where she works, such as blood-pressure machines and thermometers, two of which were being shared by 30 patients.

"We have petitioned management for more supplies at our CHS hospital, and they have not responded and haven't explained to us why," she said.

For-profit corporations average charges of 503 percent of their costs, or $503 for every $100 of total costs, the NNU report states.

Average charge ratios for government-run hospitals - including federal, state, county, city, or district operated hospitals - are 235 percent of the costs of for-private hospitals, the study states.

The study concluded that for every $100 in cost at Brooksville Regional Hospital, the hospital charged $1,083, and for every $100 in costs at Oak Hill Hospital, they charged $1,052.

Despite enactment of the Affordable Care Act, which is intended to bring health care costs down, hospital charges recorded their single biggest jump: a 22-percentile-point increase from fiscal year 2010-2011 to fiscal year 2011-2012 in the past 16 years, according to the study.

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