Whether you live in New York, California or the heartland in between, you depend on state government to ensure your hospital is safe. After all, when you're a patient, your life is on the line. But state health departments have become captives of the health care industry because of huge campaign contributions and lobbying. What's happening in New York state is one outrageous example.
Year after year, New Yorkers endure hospitals with infection rates worse than the national average. Why? Because the Greater New York Hospital Association and other trade groups for the industry write huge checks to Albany politicians.
Overall, hospitals in New York are among the worst in the nation, according to Medicare data. Forty-eight hospitals get a rock-bottom, one-star rating.
State health bureaucrats and their boss, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, sell out to the highest bidder. Patient advocates pushing for cleaner hospitals and better care don't stand a chance when the hospital industry greases the palms of state officials.
Greater New York has given more than $5 million to state political parties since 2014 and millions more to political action committees for specific candidates. Call it what it is: bribery. Not to mention the staggering $48 million a year the health care industry in New York spends on lobbying to get politicians' attention.
The politicians constantly up the ante. In August 2018, as Cuomo battled a primary challenger, his campaign literally called on the Greater New York Hospital Association to give more. In response, the association donated over $1 million to a Democratic party account controlled by the governor. The quid pro quo? For starters, hiking the state's Medicaid reimbursement rate to $140 million for hospitals.
Hospitals make out like bandits, and so does the Greater New York Hospital Association's president, Kenneth Raske, who's paid an obscene $8 million a year. For what? Not inventing a cure or treating patients. Just twisting politicians' arms. Raske's often seated at the governor's table at fundraisers.
No wonder state officials do the hospital industry's bidding. The latest offense is the health department's refusal to disclose which hospitals have been invaded by Candida auris, a new killer superbug. All hospitals struggle with infections, but this is the deadliest. A staggering 45% of hospital patients who contract it die within 90 days.
Once Candida auris enters a hospital, it spreads invisibly, contaminating floors, curtains, beds, doorknobs and medical equipment. It gets on other patients' skin, making them carriers. New research unveiled last week by the Infectious Disease Society of America documents how one infected patient at a Southern California facility led to 180 other patients becoming carriers of the germ.
You don't want to be in a hospital room where a previous patient had it. Patients choosing a hospital would want to avoid it.
Yet despite requests from patient advocates and media, state officials refuse to reveal which hospitals are affected. The nonprofit Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths filed a Freedom of Information Law request in May and got nowhere.
The same is true in the other states most affected: Illinois, New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland and Texas. States release data annually on which hospitals have staph and other routine infections. But not for Candida auris. State health officials seem more worried about Candida auris killing hospital business than killing you.
In May, staff from 60 New York and greater New York area hospitals met with state health officials about the alarming spread. Brad Hutton, Department of Health deputy commissioner, warned, "We're at a point where our response strategy needs to change." Then came foot-dragging. The Greater New York Hospital Association's Zeynep Sumer King said hospitals raised concerns at the meeting about changes they're being asked to make. Months later, they're still dithering over the strategy and whether it will be mandated or voluntary.
Meanwhile, patients die, the superbug spreads, and the public is kept in the dark. In state capitols all across the nation, money talks.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York state.