TRENTON – The senator who championed a hospital transparency and accountability measure that the governor conditionally vetoed this week is fighting back.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), Teaneck, said that she spoke with the Senate president and they will pursue a veto override vote in the fall for S782, which would have required for-profit hospitals to submit their IRS Form 990 to the Department of Health and post that information on their web sites.
At a press conference today with representatives of N.J. Citizen Action and the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, Weinberg said that although Gov. Chris Christie said in his veto message that transparency remains an “overarching” goal of his administration, in reality it is not.
She dismissed Christie’s veto message concern that her bill has the potential to represent government “over-reaching,’’ as well as his reasoning that it therefore requires a six-month study period first.
“At no time during the two and a half year history of this legislation did the governor or his administration express any concerns with this bill,” Weinberg said.
Yet this is the third recent veto, she said, of a bill that would have increased transparency and accountability of governmental agencies. The others concerned the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and halfway houses.
The issue, according to Jeff Brown of Citizen Action and Ann Twomey of the Health Professionals, is that more and more struggling non-profit hospitals are being taken over by for-profit businesses, which in some cases are discontinuing non-profitable services and cutting back on staff, leaving patients underserved and in jeopardy.
According to Twomey, whose organization represents more than 12,000 nurses and other professionals, this bill would have protected patients and workers.
“To veto the bill implies that there are others who are being protected,’’ she said.
“This bill would have leveled the playing field,” said Brown. “It’s a blow to consumers who need proper information to make informed decisions.”
As an example, they cited the case of one hospital that had approximately just one day’s cash on hand and whose checks were bouncing, but which managed to pay $8 million to investors.
Christie has called for the Legislature to give him expanded veto power over quasi-independent authorities and agencies rather than signing piecemeal legislation for individual agencies, but Weinberg said Christie’s words are “hollow.”
“Stop with the excuses,” she said, “We know full well all this bill required was disclosure.”
“He has the temerity to say it has been an overarching goal of this administration to remain committed to transparency. We’re not going to let him get away with a statement like that and not challenge him.
“I know he’s got enormous power under our Constitution. But he’s not yet the czar, he’s not yet the king.”
In his CV, Christie said among other things the bill fails to address a need for greater public access to the practices of all health care providers that receive state funds.