PORT ANGELES — Primary election candidates vying for a Sequim-area Olympic Medical Center hospital commissioner position aired their views Tuesday over single-payer health care, OMC patient costs and the quality of health care in Clallam County.
Retired information technology executive Warren Pierce, registered nurse Ann Marie Henninger and Evergreen Home Loans loan officer Nate Adkisson fielded questions at an hourlong forum at the weekly Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting.
The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 6 primary face off in the Nov. 5 general election for the six-year, Sequim-area position held by John Beitzel, who is not seeking re-election to the Clallam County Hospital District 2 board of commissioners.
Ballots for the districtwide primary election will be mailed out to more than 48,000 voters July 17, two weeks from today.
The candidates, who will be included in the Peninsula Daily News’ Voter Guide publishing July 14, were asked about providing “transparency to patients up front” on the cost of medical procedures.
“They have no idea what the costs are,” questioner Kaj Ahlburg said of OMC.
“I would certainly try to look at, I would say, a range of hospitals within about 50 to 75 miles and get an idea if they were willing to share the data with us — and I’m a data person — if they were willing to share the data with us to let our hospital know what the differences are in their procedures and somewhere else,” Pierce said.
“The real problem is not transparency, it’s pricing,” he added.
Adkisson said “transparent pricing” was a main issue for him.
He said OMC does not provide enough information, or easily understandable information, about medical-procedure costs on its website, which is “entirely possible” in today’s electronic world.
“They should be able to provide that information so we can make that decision,” Adkisson said, urging that the effort become part of the district’s strategic plan.
“Make it available to people like me with private plans.”
Adkisson said the only way to drive down costs and make medical care more affordable is to cut administrative costs.
Henninger praised the current board members, calling them “really great stewards of our community’s resources” and saying she regularly attends board meetings.
“They are taking steps to be more transparent with costs for health care,” she said.
“At the same time, there is room for more improvement.”
Pricing for medical services “changes all the time,” Henninger said.
“It’s a beautiful idea, but in practice, I’m not sure how realistic it is, because it’s a moving target, if you will.
“Getting down to the nitty gritty of what everything’s going to cost doesn’t seem possible, to be honest.”
Pierce and Adkisson gave qualified endorsements of single-payer health care, a system in which health-care providers are paid for their services by the government rather than by private insurers, according to www.mirriamwebster.com.
Adkisson, 40 as of Nov. 5, predicted such a program would not take effect during his lifetime.
“Working within the system we have is where the focus should be,” he said.
Pierce said the model system for single payer is in Germany, where the more people make, the more they pay in taxes to fund the program.
“It sounds great,” he said. “Taxes are a problem.”
Pierce, 69 as of Nov. 5, suggested that under single-payer, people like him on Medicare might have to pay higher taxes “just so we could have a lot of other people on there.”
Henninger said under single-payer, people overall would be healthier and health care costs would decrease per capita but that “huge tax hikes would have to be implemented.”
In addition, “competition goes away,” Henninger said.
“I would support that if there is a way to implement it without too much pain or agony for the U.S. or our county in particular,” she added.
Asked about the quality of and access to health care in the county, Pierce rated it “excellent.”
Pierce said he and his wife “are very happy with the system here.”
Henninger, 52 on Nov. 5, rated the quality of health care “outstanding.”
“Access to health care is good,” Henninger added, saying she offers an additional “woman’s perspective” to a five-person board that includes one woman, Jean Hordyk.
Adkisson called the quality of health care “average” in Clallam County.
Adkisson said he was concerned about access to primary care physicians so people can avoid going to the emergency room.
Hospital district voters live from Blyn at the Clallam County-Jefferson County border to Beaver, including the cities of Port Angeles and Sequim.
Hospital commissioners approve an annual general operating budget that in 2019 is $213.6 million and receive $128 per meeting up to $12,288 per year.
Commissioners, their spouses and qualifying dependents qualify for full medical, vision, dental and prescription coverage, and receive life insurance and long-term disability insurance.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].