Olympic Medical Center chief talks insurance, Medicare with Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– “Obama­care” has been a success in providing health insurance to Clallam County, Olympic Medical Center CEO Eric Lewis told the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

In Clallam County, 4,838 people are newly covered under Medicaid, and an additional 2,072 purchased insurance through Washington state's health insurance exchange created by the 2009 Affordable Care Act.

“Almost 10 percent of our community got some kind of insurance through the exchange,” Lewis told the crowd of more than 50 at the chamber's regular luncheon meeting at SunLand Golf & Country Club.

Open enrollment

Across the North Olympic Peninsula, 16,561 people got coverage through the federal government's system in the first open enrollment of Obamacare.

“It's the biggest change in health care since 1965, when Medicare and Medicaid were formed,” Lewis said

He noted, though, that the data don't say how many of those 6,910 Clallam County residents were previously uninsured.

The Affordable Care Act also presents a problem for hospitals like Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles, which is largely dependent on federal payments for most of its operations.

As part of Obamacare's efforts to control health care costs, the federal government cut the amount it will repay hospitals for costs incurred in treating patients who use Medicare.

“We're taking huge Medicare reductions over the next 10 years,” Lewis said.

“That's particularly troublesome because Olympic Medical Center is a Medicare-dependent hospital.”

Eighty percent of patients at OMC rely on the federal government in some sort for paying their hospital bills, with 58.5 percent of patients using Medicare and 14 percent on Medicaid, Lewis said.

This year, Lewis expects the hospital to lose $1.8 million in Medicare reimbursements and $32.5 million over the next decade.

Profits sagging

Those cuts combined with previous cuts made over the past decade are compounding the hospital's financial woes, Lewis said.

“I think every time Medicare does a cut, I get one more gray hair,” the silver-haired Lewis said. “Anybody that saw me in 1998 knows I had brown hair.”

In 2009, the year Obama­care was passed by Congress, OMC turned a 4 percent profit.

The hospital ended last year with a 4.9 percent loss, Lewis said, though he noted that much of that was associated with increased costs spurred by the conversion to the Epic electronic medical record system.

The first quarter of 2014 resulted in a 2 percent loss for OMC, he said.

One bright spot for the hospital is an influx of medical professionals, Lewis said, referring to the shortage of doctors on the Peninsula.

“I know that's a real need because people tell me about it all the time,” he said.

Lewis told the chamber crowd that the hospital had successfully recruited 11 doctors, physician's assistants or nurse practitioners this year.

He also noted that the hospital is teaming with Swedish Medical Center in Seattle to recruit new doctors to the area.

Residency program

A new program has medical students doing their first year of residency at Swedish before coming to OMC to complete their last two years of residency.

Lewis said communities in which new doctors serve out their residencies have “a big leg up” on keeping them in the community.

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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: May 13. 2014 7:27PM
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