OMC urges federal agency to ditch plan for Medicare, Medicaid cuts

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Loud and clear.

Olympic Medical Center officials made their concerns clear about proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements during a visit to Washington, D.C., late last month.

Olympic Medical Center CEO Eric Lewis; Jennifer Burkhart, OMC chief human resource officer/general counsel; and hospital commissioners Thom Hightower and John Nutter traveled to D.C.

Nutter noted similar concerns from Olympic Peninsula residents are being heard in D.C. as well.

After urging citizens to comment on a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposal that would significantly cut reimbursements for the hospital’s off-site clinics — costing the public hospital $47 million over the next decade — CMS is getting a proverbial earful, OMC representatives said.

“I think the letters from Sequim patients and residents are very compelling,” Lewis said in a recap of the lobbying visit to hospital commissioners on Oct. 3 in Sequim.

“We did what we wanted to do; they probably [have] never heard from a community our size,” he said.

Lewis and Burkhart reviewed their efforts to let CMS, a federal agency that administers the Medicare program and works in partnership with state governments to administer Medicaid, understand the impact their proposed cuts would make to Olympic Medical Center and other rural hospitals.

In previous interviews, Lewis said the cuts OMC would see if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ proposal moves forward would only worsen the area’s shortage of health care providers and could increase visits to the emergency room.

The rules would reduce OMC’s expense reimbursement from $118.35 per visit to $47.34 per visit — a 60 percent cut — at its off-site clinics. That would be a $3.4 million loss in funding for next year.

“In my 30 years in health care, I’ve never seen a cut this big,” Lewis said previously.

In the nation’s capitol, Lewis spoke on a panel with the American Hospital Association — a national organization that represents and serves all types of hospitals, health care networks, and their patients and communities — and told commissioners in early October that if the CMS recommendations for the 60 percent cut are passed, the association would consider backing a bill to reverse those cuts.

CMS representatives were responsive and listening, Lewis noted.

He said they had received about 3,000 letters and contacts from people across the nation. With the intent to make those comments public, CMS had released about 1,000 as of late last month, Lewis said — and 346 of those were from Sequim and Port Angeles residents.

In a previous interview, Lewis said cuts OMC would see if the CMS proposal moves forward would only worsen the area’s shortage of health care providers and could increase visits to the emergency room.

Burkhardt said OMC representatives are also working with the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) to lobby for fairer Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

“We were able to get Sequim and Port Angeles’ issues on the WSHA agenda,” she said.

Lewis and Burkhardt said they received support from the Washington delegation of Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

“Rural health is bipartisan; we really made an effort to talk to Democrats and Republicans,” Burkhardt said.

Nutter added that Washington state’s legislators seemed to know the Peninsula’s issues before they began to explain OMC’s concerns.

“It feels like consistent visits [to D.C.] is paying off,” Nutter said.

Burkhart said OMC representatives also asked for support from legislators to help OMC keep discounts on pharmaceuticals similar to those given to Veterans Administration centers, along with support for discounts for some pharmaceuticals now labeled “orphan drugs” — drugs that at one time had a single purpose but are now being used in to treat cancer patients locally, Burkhardt said.

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Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].

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