Maine Hospital Loses Health-Care Challenge

     (CN) – A hospital in Maine lost its challenge to a state law requiring all hospitals to provide free, unlimited health care to low-income families after the 1st Circuit sided with a lower court and tossed the complaint.

     Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, Maine, is a nonprofit hospital with a “tradition of voluntarily providing free and reduced price medical care to low income families,” according to the ruling. It sued state officials, alleging that the free-care laws were tantamount to unconstitutional takings of property.
     The hospital further argued that “there is no difference in the government occupying a room or the government ordering that a room be made available to someone it designates.”
     But the Boston-based federal appeals court sided with a district judge in dismissing the complaint, noting that the hospital “is not required to serve low income patients; it may choose to stop using its property as a hospital, which is what makes it subject to Maine’s free care laws.”
     Maine has required hospitals to provide free, unlimited medical services to low-income patients without reimbursement since 1989. Maine pays for some treatment through its Medicaid program known as “MaineCare,” but reimbursements are often well below the hospitals’ actual cost.
     Hospitals that can prove that their economic viability would be jeopardized by complying with the law can gain exemption.
     But the hospital never alleged that the regulations stripped economic viability, but merely created a higher operating cost.
     “In the end, (the hospital’s) objection to Maine’s free care laws and MaineCare program is a dispute with the policy choices made by the state’s political branches,” Chief Judge Lynch wrote. “As such, (its) better course of action is to seek redress through the state’s political process.”

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