Legislation would aid Olympic Medical Center, other rural hospitals

Rep. Kevin Van De Wege

Rep. Kevin Van De Wege

PORT ANGELES — Olympic Medical Center is backing legislation that would boost reimbursements for patients eligible for Medicaid at cash-strapped rural hospitals.

State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, sponsored Senate bill 6601 to provide financial relief to sole community hospitals. There are three in the state: Olympic Medical Center, Grays Harbor Community Hospital and Samaritan Healthcare in Moses Lake.

“People can’t afford to be without a hospital,” Van De Wege said in a Tuesday statement.

“We’ve intervened before and, now, once again we’re trying to preserve the sole community hospital for area residents.”

Sole community hospitals are mid-sized rural hospitals that are too large to qualify for levels of Medicaid reimbursement enjoyed by smaller critical access centers.

Senate bill 6601 was introduced just hours before a bill cutoff for financial measures, The (Aberdeen) Daily World reported.

“Olympic Medical Center strongly supports the bill,” OMC CEO Eric Lewis said in a Wednesday interview.

“We’re currently paid around 60 percent of cost for Medicaid. So we spend a dollar and get 60 cents back. This bill is designed to increase that to about 75 percent, and I think it’s much needed.”

Grays Harbor Community Hospital in Aberdeen lost more than $8 million last year, The Daily World reported.

More than a third of that hospital’s in-patient population is on Medicaid.

OMC, which has a 30 percent Medicaid payer mix, lost about $2.5 million in 2017, Lewis said.

“As we look to stabilize our operations, we greatly appreciate Senator Van De Wege sponsoring this bill,” Lewis said.

“And I’m going to Olympia tomorrow to support it.”

Van De Wege said the effort is being supported by House lawmakers such as Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles.

Van De Wege, Tharinger and Chapman each represent the 24th District, which covers the North Olympic Peninsula and part of Grays Harbor County.

Lewis said it would be “very challenging” for lawmakers to pass Senate bill 6601 in the current session.

“The state budget is very tight,” Lewis said.

“I think our representatives will do everything they can, and if we don’t pass it this session, I think we’re going to have to bring it back in the next session.”

OMC serves about 22,000 Medicaid patents, Lewis said.

“We absolutely need to have adequate Medicaid reimbursement so we can provide the access to the services that they all need,” Lewis said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.