Tuesday October 12, 2010

Obamacare ‘Absolutely’ Played Role in Catholic Hospital Sale: Scranton CEO

Catholic Health Association scrambles to defend Obamacare

By Kathleen Gilbert

SCRANTON, Pennsylvania, October 12, 2010 ( – A potentially explosive scandal has arisen after it became public that the sale of several Catholic hospitals in Pennsylvania was due in part to increased burdens imposed by the federal health reform legislation, according to the hospitals’ director. However, that message was quickly combated by the Catholic Health Association (CHA), an organization infamous for its role in helping pass the bill despite U.S. bishops’ opposition, which attempted to dismiss the health law’s role in the matter.

Mercy Health Partners CEO Kevin Cook announced earlier this month that three hospitals, Mercy Hospital in Scranton, Mercy Special Care Hospital in Nanticoke, and Mercy Tyler Hospital in Tunkhannock, would be up for sale. Mercy Hospital boasts a venerable history in the Catholic town of Scranton, where it was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1917.

Cook revealed in an October 6 WNEP TV report that the sales were “absolutely” related to the higher cost and lesser federal reimbursement ushered in by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

“Health care reform is absolutely playing a role. Was it the precipitating factor in this decision? No. But was it a factor in our planning over the next five years? Absolutely,” he said.

However, Sr. Carol Keehan, CEO of the Catholic Health Association, issued a press release two days after Cook’s statement entitled “Alarmist News Reports About Catholic Hospitals Are False.”

“Reports that health reform is the primary motive behind the sale are completely false, misleading and politically motivated,” stated Keehan. “Deliberations to sell the facilities began well before the Affordable Care Act became law and did not hinge on enactment of the legislation.”

On the same day as the CHA statement, a second announcement explaining reasons for the sale emerged from Mercy Health Partners with Cook’s name. This announcement made no mention of the federal health care legislation except to state that: “Discussions concerning mergers, acquisitions and strategic partnerships have been conducted in the healthcare community for years – long before the passage of the Affordable Care Act,” adding that “the decision was due to many factors.”

By October 10, a third statement had been released claiming that “the rationale for our initiative has been mischaracterized by certain politicized media outlets and severely distorted by some special interest groups.”

Jeffrey Lord of the American Spectator, who first pointed out the coincidence of CHA’s declaration and Cook’s backpedaling, reports that Cook’s words have been snatched up by Republican House contenders as valuable political fodder heading into the November elections. GOP opponents of Democrat U.S. Reps. Paul Kanjorski and Chris Carney, in whose districts the hospitals lie, have used Cook’s statements to lambast both incumbents for supporting the health bill.

Keehan and CHA were embroiled in Obama’s health care reform as early as July 2009, when she and others representing hospital associations arrived at the White House to pledge support of the new legislation – long before the final draft of the law came into existence.

Since then, Keehan has provided a key source of support for the legislation, leading to open condemnation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and praise from President Obama, who honored Keehan’s commitment by presenting her with one of the pens used to sign the bill into law.

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