View needed for public’s hospitals

Published 12:04 am Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mississippi’s Open Meetings Law is far from perfect, but by and large it provides a layer of public transparency with one gaping exception — public hospitals.

The law contains language that provides an all-encompassing exemption for publicly-owned hospitals.

A Senate bill passed out of committee recently seeks to change that exemption, providing the public with more insight on the operations of public hospitals.

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The Mississippi Hospital Association is opposed to the effort and lobbying hard against the passage. Often in such cases, it’s important to clear away the lobbying efforts and fears of “what ifs” and deal with the facts.

First, let’s consider why the exemption exists in the first place.

Perhaps the original intent was to prevent anyone from walking into the hospital and demanding to see patient records.

That’s an argument based on false fears. Federal privacy laws have long forbidden providing access to patient information.

With that excuse sidelined, public hospital leaders often attempt to play the “competition” card.

Publicly-owned Natchez Regional Medical Center has argued for years that release of their financial information would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

This, too, seems to be a thin argument, however.

Public colleges and universities have long competed against private facilities in a similar manner. Are Ole Miss and Mississippi State at a disadvantage because Mississippi College can read what their respective boards decide? Hardly.

We’ve heard no good argument why hospital meetings and full financial records should be excluded from public view.

Could more openness have prevented Natchez Regional from being bankrupt for the second time in five years? We’ll never know, but having an informed public certainly couldn’t hurt.

Logic, not lobbying, should be followed, and this law should be passed.