The original Stark II regulations included an 18 month moratorium on an exception to Stark that would have permitted physician to invest in specialty hospitals. Since expiration of that moratorium some physicians seeking more control over their practice environments have embarked on a mission to develop specialty hospitals as an alternative to the traditional acute care hospital setting. However, hospital groups and certain legislators have also (unsuccessfully so far) attempted to ban physician ownership in these hospitals permanently.
Efforts to ban physician ownership in these hospitals continue and in fact, if passed, the health care reform bill proposed by the Senate Finance Chairman, Max Baucus, would effectively prohibit physician ownership of specialty hospitals unless those hospitals had a Medicare Provider Agreement in place on November 1, 2009. This means that physicians who have invested money in hospitals that are under development could expect to lose their entire investment.
Support for Mr. Baucus’s ban on physician ownership in hospitals would appear, however, to not be unanimous in the Senate, according to a September 15, 2009 letter from Senator Diane Feinstein to Mr. Baucus. In that letter, Ms. Feinstein states that “as the federal government continues to spend hundred of billions of dollars in federal funds to create jobs and stimulate the economy, it is nonsensical to approve legislation that will force ongoing construction on desperately needed projects to come to a halt.” Ms. Feinstein concludes her letter by requesting that Mr. Baucus consider changes to his proposed legislation that will allow facilities currently under construction to be brought to completion.
Physicians concerned about these developments should contact their representatives and professional societies.