- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

The D.C. Council has placed on the table, for public consumption, a so-called plan for the Public Benefit Corp. (PBC), the body that operates D.C. General Hospital and six clinics. Of course, the councils offerings run counter to Mayor Williams proposal to privatize some health care services. However, that is only one reason why a mayoral veto is a must.
The veto is necessary because the councils emergency legislation finances the status quo that is to say, it proposes allowing the PBC to spend $21.5 million to keep things pretty much as they are from now through the end of this fiscal year. It proposes absolutely nothing to improve inpatient or outpatient services for the poor. In separate legislation, the councils three-member Committee on Human Services has proposed blocking FY 2002 funding for the new agency that would replace the PBC according to the mayors plan. As Council Chairman Linda Cropp very openly said at a news conference on Thursday, "Quite frankly, citizens, the difference [between the councils actions and the mayors plan] is that the District government would retain control of our public hospital, with inpatient care and trauma at that site." In other words, the status quo.
The mayor has written the council and stated, rightly so, that the council left him "no choice" but to use his veto. For one thing, D.C. General has not been verified as a trauma center by the American College of Surgeons since 1999. For another matter, inpatient care at D.C. General has been on the decline for several years. By contrast, according to the mayors plan, inpatient services would be transferred to Greater Southeast Community Hospital, and trauma and specialty care to George Washington University Hospital. D.C. General would continue to accept and care for patients who come to its emergency room. Services for infants and youths would be available through Childrens Hospital National Medical Center inarguably one of the finest hospitals in the world. The cost of the privatization plan is an estimated $75 million a year, and the contract would cover about five years, giving city leaders enough time to iron out a long-range plan.
Still, the council has other things on its mind namely an all-expenses paid self-governance kick. The councils next show of hands will be a unanimous override of the mayors veto.
Fortunately, the financial control board has the legal wherewithal to nix whatever legislative moves the D.C. Council makes, authority that wards off unnecessary congressional intervention. As Mayor Williams explained in an April 13 letter to Chairman Cropp, "It is ironic that as we focus on the importance of self-government at the end of the control period that the council would now invite congressional involvement in this purely local matter." Indeed, the councils sophomoric answers to the protracted health care debate might lead one to ask whether the council is practicing self-government or student government.

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