Olympic Medical Center CEO: 'Obamacare' may strain system
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Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News
Eric Lewis, left, CEO of Olympic Medical Center, talks shop about insurance reform and the need for more doctors in Clallam County at the Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday at SunLand Golf & Country Club.

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– Without enough doctors as it is now, Clallam County may have a serious doctor shortage looming when requirements in the federal Affordable Care Act, aka “Obama­care,” add millions of insured patients to the health care system next year.

“Having insurance and no doctor doesn't do near as much good as having a doctor and insurance,” Olympic Medical Center CEO Eric Lewis told the Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce at Tuesday's luncheon at SunLand Golf & Country Club.

Estimated 11,000

He said 15 percent of Clallam County's estimated 71,863 population — 11,000 people — who do not have insurance now will when the year starts.

Those without insurance typically do not seek treatment until minor medical issues become major, Lewis said.

“There's nothing worse than being sick and having no insurance,” Lewis said.

But “are there going to be the physicians here to meet that demand?”

And how will much more expensive will that increased demand make doctors?

Appointments

“We have a health care system that has not been able to contain costs, and now you're throwing 30 million more people into it,” he said.

Several chamber members cited instances in which they or someone they knew could not get an appointment with a doctor in Sequim, forcing them to go as far as Silverdale for routine appointments.

Despite the hospital's recruiting efforts, Lewis said, its rural base limits what it can pay to bring new doctors in.

“We can't pay as much as other people,” he said. “Some doctor wants to maximize his income, Clallam County is probably not the place to come.”

Rural base

OMC's pay ranks in the 25th percentile nationally, he said.

Because of Clallam County's rural base, though, OMC can offer doctors access to federal programs that will pay down their student debt the longer they stay in a rural community.

He did say the hospital has recruited two new primary physicians recently and has eight more physicians or nurse practitioners coming for interviews next month.

OMC also is competing with other hospitals for those same doctors, however, as they, too, try to staff up for the increased patient load.

Many of the newly insured will have their insurance through some form of Medicaid, Lewis said, called Apple Health in Washington.

Public insurance

The public insurance will be available to those whose income is 138 percent of the federal poverty level, currently $11,490 for an individual and $23,550 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Other forms of government assistance will be available for those who make up to 400 percent of the poverty level, Lewis said.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 24. 2013 5:39PM
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