Connecticut moves to cap hospital facility fees

Lawmakers in Connecticut are moving forward with a bill that would cap and indemnify facility fees that hospitals can charge patients.

The bill has bipartisan support in the state Senate, although the Connecticut Legislature has yet to vote on in it, The Middletown Press reported. It would cap facility charges at $100 and require insurers to pay the fees on behalf of patients. The bill would also ban the fee on two dozen procedures that the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission recently recommended that Medicare not cover.

Senate Minority Leader Leonard Fasaso, a Republican, said requiring insurers to pay the facility fee adds a "watchdog" aspect to how such fees are regulated and collected.

The bill comes in response to rising facilty fees in Connecticut. A report issued by that state's attorney general last year concluded that 22 hospitals out of 29 that operate in the state impose such fees, and they range from as little as $100 to as much as $1,000. The report concluded that most of the hospitals did a poor job disclosing such fees.

Facility fees have become a popular revenue generating tool among hospitals, particularly as the organizations acquire more physician practices. The fees are usually not only levied during a hospital inpatient visit or to an ambulatory care facilty, but also for visiting physician offices that are owned by hospitals.

However, the fees have also generated a significant amount of controversy, with many considering them onerous in light of the fact that patients face higher out-of-pocket costs. In 2012, Tenet Healthcare Corp. was sued by patients over a nearly $200 facility fee it inserted into bills for office visits that lasted for as little as 15 minutes.

The regulatory environment in Connecticut appears to be hardening toward hospital operators that intend to reap as much revenue as possible. Tenet recently announced it would not purchase four hospitals in the state due to ongoing battles it has had with regulators, the Hartford Courant reported.

The Connecticut Hospital Association has yet to take a position on the bill, which is still being revised before it undergoes a vote in the Senate. "Patients, and all Connecticut residents, will benefit if the state is focused is on providing high-quality, cost-effective, integrated healthcare for everyone in Connecticut and achieving a sustainable environment for healthcare in our state. We look forward to seeing the fully drafted bills and collaborating with legislators to improve healthcare," a hospital association spokesperson said in a statement issued to the Middletown Press.

To learn more:
- read the Middletown Press article 
- check out the Hartford Courant article