Olympic Medical Center board discusses sending letter to president

EDITOR’S NOTE: The amount of Medicaid payments that Olympic Medical Center could lose under President Donald Trump’s proposal has been corrected.

PORT ANGELES — Olympic Medical Center commissioners vowed to write a letter to President Donald Trump about proposed Medicaid cuts that would impact an estimated 7,000 Clallam County residents.

The letter to Trump would oppose the proposed cuts and advocate for access to public health.

Commissioners at a Wednesday evening meeting also mentioned tweeting and emailing to make their concerns known.

About 22,308 residents in Clallam County are currently enrolled in Medicaid, Eric Lewis, OMC chief executive officer, told commissioners. That figure includes about 8,666 children.

The American Health Care Act would cut Medicaid — the public insurance program for eligible low-income families, children, elderly Americans and people with disabilities — by as much as $834 billion.

At the same time, Trump’s proposed 10-year budget would cut an additional $610 billion from the program.

Lewis estimated 7,000 county residents would lose Medicaid coverage — with the majority left uninsured — under these proposed cuts.

“We have to take care of everybody regardless of ability to pay, but that cost is going to shift,” Lewis said.

OMC’s Medicaid payments would be cut by $105 million over 10 years, according to an estimate from the American Hospital Association, Lewis said, so the hospital would pay more to treat uninsured patients.

OMC’s operating budget would not remain unscathed.

Commissioners discussed the effect of budget cuts on physicians’ salary lines. It is possible some physicians would be pushed out of the area because of pay cuts, Lewis said.

OMC was the largest employer in Clallam County in 2016 with more than 1,300 employees, including 982 Olympic Medical Center employees (Port Angeles and Sequim), 257 Olympic Medical Physician employees (Port Angeles and Sequim) and 61 Olympic Medical Home Health employees (covering all of Clallam County and west Jefferson County).

The effects on OMC’s budget likely wouldn’t be immediate, Lewis said. But the greatest impacts would manifest in the years ahead: perhaps 2022, 2023 and 2024, he said.

Rather than shifting the cost, Lewis said the American health care system needs to reduce the cost of providing care.

“They can shift the cost all they want, but the cost is still going to be the same,” he said.

OMC is located in a rural public hospital district. Proposed Medicaid cuts would disproportionately impact rural communities, Lewis said.

Because rural hospitals tend to serve mostly older, poorer, uninsured and underinsured Americans, changes in Medicaid funding — cuts and premium increases — impose the greatest barriers to insurance coverage.

“I’m very concerned about the impact it will have on rural communities,” he said.

The board also hopes Clallam County residents will send letters of their own to Trump, Lewis said.

OMC’s “Legislative Advocacy” page on its website links to template letters, the American Medical Association’s “A Guide to Communicating with Members of Congress” and contact information for federal and state representatives.

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Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at ssharp@ peninsuladailynews.com.

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