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Mass. Sen. Markey rolls out plan to protect patients at hospitals run by private equity firms


U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., used a Senate subcommittee field hearing at the State House on Wednesday to roll out a new plan to protect patients from the impacts of private equity transactions in health care.

The plan’s unveiling came as the Markey-chaired Senate panel delved into the financial woes of Steward Health Care and its management under current CEO Dr. Ralph de la Torre.

The “discussion draft” proposal would require private equity companies to set aside funding to safeguard access to patient care, provide a “bigger voice” for health care workers and patients to review and block potential deals, and require for-profit companies to disclose their financial information and staffing levels, among other components, Markey said, according to State House News Service.

“Greedy corporate executives like Steward Health Care CEO Dr. Ralph de la Torre are failing in their responsibility to providers, patients, and communities,” Markey said in a statement. “In Massachusetts and across the country, they are deploying promises for profit, which is why I launched my agenda to put health care over wealth care.”

Markey will accept public comment on the draft proposal through May 3.

Markey also rolled out his new “State Based Universal Health Care Act‚” which is intended as a preface to Medicare for All.

As it’s currently written the bill would allow states to obtain a “super waiver” from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services to provide comprehensive, universal health coverage to all residents, the Bay State Democrat said.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is backing the Senate version of the bill. U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., is backing the proposal in the House.

On Tuesday, Markey sharply criticized de la Torre for what he said was the healthcare executive’s decision to twice decline invitations to appear before the Senate panel.

Markey chairs the Senate Health Committee’s primary health and retirement security subcommittee.

On Wednesday, an empty chair marked for the executive was placed next to other invited health care leaders who detailed the dangers of private equity on patient care, State House News Service reported.

Warren joined Markey at the hearing and accused de la Torre of hiding from the panel, State House News Service reported.

“Shame on Dr. de la Torre,” Warren said, according to State House News Service. “He owes the residents of Massachusetts an explanation for his part in looting Steward hospitals.”

The hearing lasted less than two hours and no one from Steward Health Care testified.

On Tuesday, Steward officially shut down New England Sinai Hospital in Stoughton, as it seeks to head off a financial bleed that threatens its other properties across the commonwealth.

The shutdown, announced last year, means the loss of 39 rehabilitation service beds, 119 chronic care beds, and all ambulatory care at the hospital, according to a filing the struggling health care company made with state regulators in January.

In February, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey called on Steward, which owes some $50 million in back rent, to wind down its operations in Massachusetts after the company failed to fully comply with her office’s request to turn over key financial documents, MassLive previously reported.

The company’s “refusal to provide basic levels of transparency” has “hindered the state’s ability to take preventive steps to protect access to care,” Healey’s office said in a statement at the time.

On March 7, Markey and Warren sent a letter of their own requesting an array of financial information, including executive compensation.

The Boston Globe reported last week that the company had reached an agreement to sell its physicians network to a unit of health insurance titan UnitedHealth.

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