AUGUSTA, Maine — Two bills that would open hospital board meetings to public scrutiny went before lawmakers Tuesday.
One bill, LD 1118, seeks to make board meetings of hospitals that receive significant taxpayer funding open to the public. The law would apply to hospitals that receive more than 50 percent of their gross operating revenues from the state and federal government. That would apply to nearly all Maine hospitals, which are reimbursed by Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor, and Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors and people with disabilities.
The other bill, LD 684, would make hospitals’ bylaws and board meeting minutes subject to the state’s freedom of information law. Sponsored by Rep. Bruce McDonald, D-Boothbay, the bill drew support from Boothbay-area residents who oppose plans to close the emergency room at their local St. Andrews Hospital in October. They complained that hospital officials failed to appropriately inform the public of the closure plans.
Both bills were debated Tuesday in public hearings before the Legislature’s judiciary committee. Supporters argued for greater transparency given that hospitals affect public policy by accepting taxpayer money and providing critical health services. Hospitals also play a significant role in Maine’s economy as major employers, supporters said.
The Maine Hospital Association argued against both bills, contending that hospitals are private organizations that shouldn’t be subject to public right-to-know requirements. Hospitals don’t receive an allocation of state money, like other private nonprofits with open board meetings, but rather are reimbursed for providing services, said Jeff Austin, a lobbyist with the association.
Similar efforts to make hospital board meetings public have been defeated in past legislative sessions.