Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Bill may affect heart hospital plan



By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The future of a proposed Cincinnati heart hospital may be affected by a provision added to the Medicare prescription drug bill.

The bill includes an 18-month moratorium on physician-owned specialty hospitals - unless they were under development before Nov. 18.

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What remains to be seen is how the federal Department of Health and Human Services defines "under development."

"It has not been determined yet what 'under development' really means," said Jim Tomaszewski, executive director of the Ohio Heart Health Center, the doctor group proposing the heart hospital in conjunction with the parent company of Deaconess Hospital.

The heart hospital organizers are considering sites in Norwood and Sharonville for the $60 million project.

On Tuesday night, Norwood City Council voted unanimously to offer the $60 million project an annual tax break of $188,000 for 10 years on tangible personal property.

The hospital and a medical office building would be constructed on vacant property just west of Montgomery Road on the north side of the Norwood Lateral. The project would share the site, which had been General Motors property, with a planned Kroger store.

Sharonville also has approved incentives to offer to the hospital.

The bill would allow federal officials to consider several factors, including whether the project has architectural plans, if zoning has been approved, if state agencies have granted other required approvals, or if the project has financing arranged. Other unspecified evidence of development also could be submitted.

There is no doubt that a specialty hospital in New Albany, Ohio, and an eight-bed surgical hospital in Butler County would qualify because construction on both projects is nearly complete, said Mary Yost, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Hospital Association. But there is some question about whether the heart hospital project would qualify, she said.

The moratorium calls for two studies to be completed within 15 months to analyze the impact of specialty hospitals on the health care system.

Even for the hospitals that are grandfathered in, the moratorium precludes them from adding physician investors unless they are replacing existing investors. This provision will affect the Cincinnati proposal, but won't kill it, officials say.

"There are other ways to get it done. We are proceeding with development," Tomaszewski said.

E-mail tbonfield@enquirer.com




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