Publisher's Note: Cure for weak reporting
Even though a new law requires the state to set up a database to track infections at New Hampshire hospitals, it hasnít happened. The problem appears to be money.
In 2006 the state passed a law requiring hospitals to report their infection rates and the state to create a database for public inspection. Everything should have kicked in July 1 of this year, but there has been no movement to enforce the law.
New Hampshire Public Radio recently ran a story about the lack of hospital reporting of their infection rates. MRSA, an infection most commonly found at hospitals, kills 19,000 people a year, more than AIDS. This is information patients should know.
However, the lack of disclosure from hospitals is indicative of the problems our health care system faces. Public reporting of infection rates is important information that patients need to make informed decisions about their health care. If health is to be treated as a business then patients need to know how safe they will be at a particular hospital.
And thatís one of the many problems with our health care system. Itís caught between requirements that it be private and fight it out in the marketplace and a web of government regulation that hobbles hospitalsí ability to make competitive decisions.
While solving the constantly escalating cost of health care might not be possible right away, there are some simple changes our state government can make.
For starters, it can help patients choose the best hospitals by creating that infection database. This will help create competition.
On the other side, it makes sense to eliminate or vastly reduce the power of the state to regulate how hospitals operate their business. The state can essentially decide if a hospital can buy an MRI machine or open a new location ó any time a hospital project costs $1.6 million or more the state gets involved. Elliotís new expansion by the Merrimack River in Manchester must first be approved by the state. How does letting a government agency decide what facilities and equipment a hospital can have help those hospitals better compete?
Though competition between hospitals isnít a panacea, it has been shown in our own state to reduce medical costs. A few years ago before complaints prompted a change, health insurance was cheaper for people in south-central New Hampshire than for those in the Seacoast and North Country because more hospitals in this area compete for patients.
Our medical system needs major repairs. Itís broken at many levels. Competition will only go so far in fixing them. Government will need to play a role in getting drug costs under control and creating some sort of incentives to get small businesses to provide coverage to employees or employees to buy it for themselves.
The legislature and governor made a step in the right direction when they passed the hospital reporting infection law back in 2006. Now they need to go the rest of the way and put money aside ($100,000 would get it done) to get the data public. And then they need to realize that they have a lot more to do in helping to clean up the health care system.