POINT OF VIEW: Protect Clallam County’s access to health care

Olympic Medical Center CEO Eric Lewis

Olympic Medical Center CEO Eric Lewis

By Eric Lewis

Chief Executive Officer

Olympic Medical Center

CLALLAM COUNTY’S HEALTH care is threatened by a federal agency proposal to cut payments by 60 percent for patient visits in Olympic Medical Center’s physician clinics located more than 250 yards from the hospital.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) is accepting comments on its proposed rule until Monday.

During the past two weeks, I have seen Clallam County residents mobilize and send comments to CMS to protect our local health care. During community forums, meetings with business groups and discussions with OMC employees and community members, I have heard an outpouring of support for our local health care system. Residents of Clallam County are gaining the attention of CMS.

We need to continue to speak up for rural health care because these cuts will reduce Medicare reimbursement for OMC’s clinic visit expenses from $118.35 to $47.34 per visit at our off-site, hospital-based clinics.

OMC currently receives only approximately 85 percent of the costs to provide services to Medicare enrollees. If the rule is implemented, the cuts total an estimated $3.4 million loss for OMC in 2019 and $47.8 million over the next 10 years.

OMC is the second most affected hospital in the state and the 53rd highest impacted in the country.

In order to serve our rural county, OMC has many off-site clinics, including a large Sequim campus with four buildings and 20 essential services, and many clinics in Port Angeles.

The clinics that will be hurt by this slash in Medicare reimbursement include Sequim’s Primary Care Clinic, Specialty Clinic, medical oncology, radiation oncology, cardiology clinic and Walk-in Clinic, and the Primary Care Clinic on Eighth and Vine streets in Port Angeles.

This is a devastating proposal that we need to come together to stop for many reasons, including:

1. Clallam County needs to have more access to physicians and health care, not less. CMS proposes to cut OMC’s reimbursement to match a rate that is paid to “free-standing” or independent physician practices.

Site-neutral policies do not work in rural communities such as ours because long ago these free-standing physicians determined they could not operate at such a low Medicare reimbursement.

Sequim and Port Angeles residents face a shortage of physicians available who accept Medicare reimbursement. OMC provides vital access to care for these Medicare (and Medicaid) patients, and health care services for residents of Clallam County should not be restricted by misguided policies.

2. These cuts will harm Clallam County’s economic growth and development. Payment cuts of $47.8 million over the next decade, if implemented, will result in fewer jobs and fewer health care services for Clallam County citizens.

Our future economic development depends on having a health care delivery system that can grow with our population and meet health care needs adequately.

OMC is the largest employer in Clallam County with more than 1,500 employees and we need to continue to grow to help fill health care shortages. The proposed reductions in Medicare payments threaten to impede our economic development.

3. The shortage of health professionals will be made worse. In Clallam County we lack needed physicians, registered nurses, physical therapists, medical assistants and other medical professionals.

These large cuts will significantly hurt OMC’s ability to recruit and retain the needed workforce to provide excellent care to our patients and deliver value to the Medicare program.

4. Future services will be limited. CMS proposes to cut reimbursement by 60 percent for new services at previously grandfathered clinics. This severely restricts the ability of rural and safety net hospitals such as OMC to meet their patients’ needs in the future.

5. With less primary care access, visits to the Emergency Department will increase. Site neutral policies will result in less primary and preventive care, and more emergency department and hospital utilization.

CMS will deprive OMC of needed resources to invest in wellness, prevention and chronic disease management services, all of which help reduce and prevent emergency department and hospital utilization.

OMC has partnered with our local YMCA to provide wellness and chronic disease management services at the Sequim YMCA facility.

These services are important to offer residents and reduce the cost of health care by keeping patients healthier through attention to primary care and wellness.

We have until Monday to submit comments. CMS will finalize this rule in November unless we can change their minds. I am optimistic if CMS continues to hear from our community that rural health care needs to be protected from this proposed rule, we can stop the Medicare cuts from harming access to the health care services we need in our community.

Go to www.Olympic Medical.org/ProtectLocal Healthcare and learn how you can comment to CMS, tell your personal story about the importance of access to health care in our rural community and help stop these extremely harmful Medicare cuts.

________

Eric Lewis is the CEO of Olympic Medical Center.

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