Phoebe's prices criticized - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Phoebe's prices criticized

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November 28, 2007

Albany-  Phoebe Putney Health System is under fire with claims the hospital inflates its prices by more than 250 percent.

That's part of a report from Georgia Watch. The watchdog group slams Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital for prices, six figure salaries for executives, exorbitant expenses, and the amount of cash they keep on hand to operate. Hospital officials say the group has its numbers wrong.

Phoebe's spending is drawing criticism again. In 2005, Phoebe execs were criticized for spending tens of thousands of dollars on cigars, booze and lavish hotel rooms in London. This report says such wasteful spending is driving up your health care costs.

For example: the average cost for a technician to draw blood is $3.19, but Phoebe Putney charges $10.80. Georgia Watch says Phoebe's prices for more specialized procedures are even more exorbitant. A cardiac catheterization, which runs $1,256 at other hospitals, costs, $4,001 at Phoebe.

"Where you see the hospital like Phoebe Putney who is the only hospital to offer certain cardiac procedures or certain obstetrical procedures then we're seeing the mark up on those procedures to be higher than the national average," said Allison Wall, Executive Director and founder of Georgia Watch.

Phoebe's CEO Joel Wernick is critical of the report saying, prices have been taken out of context from how hospital accounting really works.

"Our expenses are a certain level our prices at another and we have to write off almost 52 to 54 percent of all of our prices," said Wernick.

Georgia Watch scolds Phoebe for increasing fees by six percent in 2007, although the hospital claims it's more of a 1.5 percent increase with their discounts. While the watch dog group say the hospital reported $31,000 in charitable care and estimate their community contribution at over $75 million dollars it's difficult to determine whether Albany is getting it's money's worth.

"It's very difficult from Phoebe's own filings to determine how much contribution they believe they are giving back to the community," said Wall.

"That's just not so, I'll also tell you there are very few people that compete for folks who don't have money and we are here every day to take care of people whether they have money or not, so competition comes in many different forms," said Wernick.

That seems to be what Georgia Watch is calling for, more competition to drive down prices. Wernick doesn't agree and questions the groups motives.

Phoebe claims the report is political and released to coincide with debate over Georgia's certificate of need laws that limit health care competition.

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