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City and CareFirst given right to argue in hospital case

February 08, 2005|BY GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

A state agency reviewing the $234 million plans to move Washington County Hospital recently granted the City of Hagerstown and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield the right to argue against the plans.

A separate ruling has set a tentative increase in the rates charged to patients, to take effect when the hospital is built. The price hike will help offset the cost of construction for the proposed hospital.

The decisions are the latest in the review process for the hospital's moving plans.

Hospital administrators want to move the hospital from its East Antietam Street buildings to a new complex next to Robinwood Medical Center.

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Before construction can begin, the Maryland Health Care Commission must approve the hospital's application for a certificate of need, which is a comprehensive plan of the building's design, the medical services that will be provided and cost projections.

Hospital officials are in their second attempt to gain approval of the certificate of need. They withdrew the first application last May, citing problems with their financing plan.

Officials submitted the revised certificate of need in September, beginning a series of events that is to end with a decision by the Health Care Commission.

On Jan. 24, a Health Care Commission reviewer granted interested-party status to the city and CareFirst. The status would allow either party to present oral arguments against hospital plans.

Three other individuals, one of whom was representing a group and one of whom was a business owner, were denied interested-party status.

After some recent revisions to financial plans and construction dates, and the health cost agency's decision, the Health Care Commission has requested more public comment on the application, said Pamela Barclay, Health Care Commission interim executive director.

Barclay said the comment period would end in March. She said she could not predict when the Health Care Commission would hear the case, but said it would happen after March.

Barclay said hospital officials have predicted that July 1, 2008, will be the opening date for a new hospital.

A second state agency, the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission, must approve the financing plans, including any rate increases the hospital needs to pay for construction.

In its January meeting, the Health Services Cost Review Commission approved a financing plan that would allow the hospital to raise an additional $7.27 million annually through patient rate increases once construction on the new hospital is complete, said Robert Murray, Health Services Cost Review Commission executive director.

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