St. Luke’s is a bully

St. Luke’s is Idaho’s largest hospital system, and although it operates as a non-profit, it had nearly $1.9 billion in assets as of the September 30, 2013 according to its latest consolidated financial statement. Recently St. Luke’s has been buying up not only private practices and surgical centers but also community hospitals—which it wanted to continue receiving tax dollars to operate—until the Idaho Attorney General’s Office called the scheme “unlawful and unconstitutional.”

Last year the acquisition of Saltzer Medical Group by St. Luke’s was ruled illegal by a federal judge and regulators are now warning that St. Luke’s is still not complying with the judge’s order.

During the trial, St. Luke’s requested that certain facts about their business and the acquisition be kept secret—such as that “by 2012, St. Luke’s had three of the top five highest-paid hospitals, and its top hospital was receiving reimbursements 21 percent higher than the average Idaho hospital”—but the judge refused and released all of the information to the public.

Another tidbit that was revealed is that Idaho insurance rates for a routine doctor’s office visit are higher than 95 percent of those paid by other insurance plans nationwide.

In addition to the dubious legality of many of St. Luke’s business practices are underlying questions regarding its ethics and history of bullying. Once-secret documents disclosed as part of an anti-trust lawsuit reveal that St. Luke’s threatened to pull its Ketchum hospital—the only hospital in the area—out of Blue Cross of Idaho networks unless Blue Cross agreed to “dramatically increase” how much they paid to St. Luke’s. Interesting strategy for a non-profit, right?

When St. Luke’s bought a Boise-based surgical center in 2009, it redesignated it as a “hospital” in order to charge insurers the higher hospital rates for surgery. Although people often tend to blame insurance companies for skyrocketing healthcare costs, hospitals play a huge role in determining the going rate for most procedures.

St. Luke’s latest undertaking is a proposed $400 million expansion of its sprawling Boise facilities that will require permanently closing down a busy public street. The Boise City Council has already given the plan a thumbs up despite a considerable amount of protest from affected neighbors and motorists, but the Ada County Highway District still has to approve the plan as well.

How much of a markup do you have to have on aspirin in order to afford a $400 million expansion project anyway?

Perhaps the most disturbing elements of St Luke’s expansion campaign are the bullying and underhandedness of it all. In addition to threatening to move operations to Meridian if the city wouldn’t hand over a public street, St Luke’s stacked the public hearings with its own employees and representatives.

A local media report revealed that at an eight-hour public hearing held on the expansion, “many of the people who spoke in favor of the proposal are St. Luke’s employees” and people who live in nearby neighborhoods “generally spoke against the St. Luke’s proposal.”

St Luke’s expansion proposal has garnered the support of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board, but neither entity thought it necessary to acknowledge that Michael Jung, the President and Publisher of the Idaho Statesman, also serves on St. Luke’s “Strategic Initiatives Committee.” Is it fair to call that a conflict of interest?

What else has St. Luke’s been up to? Lobbying for Medicaid expansion, of course. Dr. David Pate, the President and CEO of St. Luke’s—who earns in excess of $1.1 million annually for heading the “non-profit” hospital, by the way—has been an outspoken advocate of further subjugating Idahoans to the tyranny of obamacare by expanding the state’s Medicaid program.

Pate even ran a poll on his corporate blog to try to influence policy makers to expand Medicaid in Idaho. He says that it is his opinion and “St. Luke’s position” that “Medicaid expansion would be in the best interests of Idaho.” Isn’t that nice, a millionaire is using his billion-dollar non-profit hospital to push Obama’s agenda on the gem state.

St. Luke’s would have you believe that it is a benevolent entity dedicated to the health and wellbeing of Idahoans, and for many of its employees, that is true. Unfortunately, as a business entity, St. Luke’s is a ruthless corporation, buying up or forcing out its competition, engaging in “unlawful and unconstitutional” schemes to accumulate taxpayer dollars, and attempting to strong arm insurance companies into paying exorbitant rates.

St. Luke’s is using unethical tactics to obtain approval of its expansion plans even when those plans harm the local community. It is also throwing its considerable weight behind liberal policies which are bad for Idahoans. In short, St. Luke’s is being a bully, and Idahoans deserve better. Let’s work together to hold St. Luke’s accountable for its bad behavior and to encourage it to stop promoting the progressive agenda in Idaho.