KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

No Shriners Hospitals Closing; Some May Be Outpatient-Only

"All 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children will stay open, but some eventually might become outpatient-only surgery facilities, the system that offers free specialty pediatric care said Thursday," CNN reports. "The system, which has covered all costs of its patients' care throughout its 87-year history, eventually will accept insurance from patients who have it, members of the Shriners fraternity decided in their annual convention in San Antonio, Texas. Accepting money from insurers and finding other ways to cut costs will help Shriners retain their presence in all 22 locations, said Doug Maxwell, the new president and CEO of Shriners Hospitals."

Months ago, the Shriners board had "proposed to close six hospitals largely because an $8.5 billion endowment fund lost more than $3 billion as the stock market plummeted last year." The system's $856 million budget for 2009 also outpaced "the fund's interest and donations," which caused the hospitals to "take about $1 million per day from the fund."

"The hospital system has treated hundreds of thousands of children free of charge -- regardless of patients' ability to pay -- since the first facility opened in 1922. Most offer orthopedic care. Four, including the Galveston hospital, care for children who are burned, and some offer cleft lip and palate repair and spinal cord injury rehabilitation. The system will continue to give care in these areas at no cost to the patients' families, [Maxwell] said. One way to cut costs may be to transform some hospitals to outpatient-only surgery centers, Maxwell said. Many Shriners Hospitals have empty beds, in part because they were built during a time when many of their surgery patients needed to stay overnight" (Hanna, 7/10).

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