GOP lawmaker wants tougher penalties for hospital infections

By Matthew DoBias
December 1, 2009

A key Republican being courted as a possible swing vote on healthcare reform by Senate leaders and the White House said she would press for stricter penalties against hospitals that have high rates of hospital-acquired infections.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is readying an amendment that would subject hospitals to a higher penalty—and earlier on in the process—than is currently included in the Senate's health reform package.

Under the current bill, starting in 2015, hospitals in the top 25th percentile of rates of hospital-acquired infections would be subject to a 1% penalty under Medicare. Collins' provision, however, would move up the penalty date two years to 2013 and could increase the actual penalty as well.

Collins discussed the measure with White House officials. “That's one specific idea that we requested that they seemed interested in helping us on,” she said, referring to administration officials Nancy-Ann DeParle and Jeanne Lambrew.

Additionally, Collins said that she's considering amendments that deal with affordability, small-business tax credits and a raft of other provisions.

Collins' recommendations, however, could have added traction. A moderate, Maine Republican—like her counterpart Sen. Olympia Snowe—is seen as a possible swing vote for a legislative package that so far is backed only by Democrats. Having a handful of Republicans on board would give Democrats more wiggle room to pass a bill that requires 60 votes in the Senate.

Collins said she continues to oppose the legislation as it is currently written but left the door open for a change of heart. “There would have to be substantial changes, but I certainly hope that would be possible,” she said. “I think there is unease on both sides of the aisle about specific provisions in this bill and that it's possible that we can come up with alternatives that will garner bipartisan support.”