Fasano objects to Barnes’ letter to Bristol Hospital [JI]

April 8, 2016

Journal Inquirer

Senate Minority Leader Leonard Fasano this week called Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes’ letter to Bristol Hospital “completely inappropriate,” inserting himself into an ongoing feud between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the hospital industry.

Fasano, R-North Haven, said Barnes has no basis to assert that Bristol Hospital and Healthcare Corp. is misusing Medicaid funding, and also said Malloy’s budget chief shouldn’t tell other officials how to manage money in a budget crisis.

“What gives you the right as Office of Policy and Management secretary under the direction of Governor Malloy to unilaterally launch accusations of mishandling taxpayer dollars when you have overseen an administration plagued by financial missteps,” Fasano wrote in a letter to Barnes.

“After the two largest tax increases in Connecticut’s history coupled with historic levels of bonding and state indebtedness, it seems to me your fiscal guidance is not appropriate in this situation,” he added.

Barnes on Monday sent a letter to Bristol Hospital President Kurt Barwis questioning statements Barwis made about how a construction project was in jeopardy because OPM withheld supplemental Medicaid payments.

In the letter, Barnes questioned whether Bristol Hospital was using Medicaid reimbursements to fund construction, and also suggested the project isn’t needed for a region with multiple hospitals.

Fasano, though, said he was “surprised” Barnes “had the authority” to question the hospital’s decision on how to best serve its patients’ needs.
“Bristol Hospital is the only small, low-cost, high-quality hospital in the Hartford area,” he said. “Hospitals like Bristol should be encouraged to expand competition with other nearby high-cost options. Competition is what is needed to keep health care accessible and affordable for all.”
Fasano also said the state reimburses “only a fraction of the costs of services rendered” to Medicaid patients — hospitals also rely on federal reimbursements — an arrangement that means “these small hospitals are subsidizing the state.”

He also criticized Barnes for suggesting that Bristol Hospital not take on a construction project if its finances are so dire.

According to the Office of Health Care Access, Bristol Hospital made $1.37 million in revenue over operating costs, a profit margin of just under 1 percent.

Fasano questioned how Barnes could give the advice to Bristol Hospital, despite Malloy’s decision to raise a self-imposed borrowing cap to $2.7 billion this year, up $200 million from last year.

“The state is in no position to criticize anyone for their financial management based upon our past, current, and future deficits,” he said, adding private businesses need to be able to adapt.

Barnes’ letter, in which he asks for assurances that pleas were “not part of a public relations campaign to obtain more taxpayer funded expansions,” also drew a sharp rebuke from Barwis.

Barwis referred to the state’s “woefully inadequate and deficient funding of Medicaid to Bristol Hospital.”

He also said the hospital decided to build a medical center in downtown Bristol, where operations from other facilities will be consolidated, after conducting a needs assessment.

The exchange between Barwis and Barnes is just the latest the exchange between Malloy and the hospital industry over funding levels.
Hospital executives have regularly complained when Malloy and OPM have decided to use supplemental Medicaid payments to help address budget deficits, especially after increases in a hospital tax that didn’t exist until 2011.

Malloy and his administration have defended the action by pointing to hospital profits — a combined $425 million last year, according to OHCA — and executive compensation as signs that hospitals aren’t experiencing the financial struggles that they claim.