Even though doctors currently have an ownership interest in just 5% of the 5,700 hospitals in the U.S., the ACA will not allow physicians to increase their ownership interest or pursue ownership in additional hospitals. The potential for conflict of interest and concerns about physician owners “cherry picking” the more profitable patients were the impetus behind Section 6001 of the Affordable Care Act that was passed in 2010.
Challenges to the law continue to come along, including a House bill sponsored by Representative Sam Johnson of Texas that would suspend the moratorium on expansion of physician-owned hospitals (POHs) for 3 years and grandfather in several POHs that were under development when the Affordable Care Act was passed. The legislation is based on a recent study that reviewed patient populations, quality of care, costs and payments in 2,186 hospitals, 219 of which were partly physician-owned. The study showed little difference in patient care between POHs and non-POHs, in fact 7 of the top 10 hospitals receiving quality bonuses in the new Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program were physician-owned hospitals.
One study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services showed that a majority of physician owners have less than a 2% interest in their institution. As healthcare continues to evolve from fee-for-service to more value-based, there is no doubt that the debate over physician-owned hospitals will continue.