PORT ANGELES — Five Olympic Medical Center board candidates debated single-payer health care, OMC’s fiscal challenges, transparency in billing and a hypothetical tax levy increase in a forum this week.
Nate Adkisson, Ted Bowen, Ann Marie Henninger, Jean Hordyk and Thom Hightower fielded a wide range of questions from Port Angeles Business Association members at the group’s weekly breakfast meeting at Joshua’s Restaurant on Tuesday.
Adkisson and Henninger are vying for the hospital’s Sequim-area District 1, Position 1 seat in the Nov. 5 general election. Incumbent John Beitzel is not seeking re-election.
Bowen is challenging Hordyk, a four-term incumbent, for the District 2, Position 2 seat.
Hightower, who was appointed to the OMC board in January 2018, is running unopposed for District 3, Position 1.
Henninger said OMC “almost” has a single-payer system now because 83 percent of its patients are on Medicare or Medicaid, which do not reimburse the hospital at full cost.
“Were we to go to 100 percent Medicare/Medicaid, or some other single-payer situation, I don’t see that our hospital would be able to keep the doors open,” Henninger told about 35 meeting attendees.
“So I would fall on the side of having folks have insurance that would not be single-payer based.”
Henninger, who will be 52 on election day, is a registered nurse.
Adkisson, who will be 40 on Nov. 5, is a loan officer.
“I definitely fall on the side that the best way to provide the best care for the most people, statistically speaking, is pushing toward a socialized medicine system,” Adkisson said.
“If we just went straight over to Medicare for All, it would not be sufficient reimbursement to keep the system functional. There would have to be major, dramatic changes for that to take place, not to mention the bailout that would be required of our stock market if all those insurance companies were no longer part of our system.”
Bowen, 36, is safety and security supervisor at North Olympic Healthcare Network.
He declined to answer the question on the single-payer model, saying he would need to do more research.
Hordyk, 76, is a retired U.S. Customs and Border protection officer.
She said there is “no real answer” to which model would benefit OMC given the uncertainty in the political landscape.
“I don’t really go for single-payer,” Hordyk said when prodded by moderator Andrew May.
“I think that there are other options. … We have to work to encourage people to take care of their own health.”
Hightower, a 40-year veteran of the health care industry, said health care financing is “one of the more complex questions that face us.”
“I don’t know if there is an answer, whether you go with a socialized medicine or with Medicare for All or you go with insurance,” Hightower said.
When the candidates were asked to comment on OMC’s fiscal challenges, Adkisson said he would push for “robust advocacy.”
“We have to advocate more at the national and state level than we ever have before to ensure that that funding isn’t cut, and that rural areas are at the front of the list of being taken care of,” Adkisson said.
“The other piece is we can improve cost savings with technology, especially as the hospital is moving toward mobile technology and the MyChart systems.”
Henninger said OMC’s leadership and board have “already made substantial budgetary adjustments” due to recent cuts from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS.
CMS implemented a “site neutrality” rule last November, reducing Medicare reimbursements by 60 percent at clinics more than 250 yards away from a hospital’s main campus.
OMC, which is now suing the federal government over the rule, will lose $47 million over the next decade if the rule remains, hospital officials have said.
“You have a situation where reimbursements are going down and the cost of health care is going up, or constantly changing,” Henninger said.
“Having sat in board meetings for two years, I’ve been able to witness the current board tackle those issues head on.”
Henninger and Hightower each said OMC officials have been staunch advocates for rural health care in regular meetings with elected representatives in Olympia and Washington, D.C.
“The hospital has made every effort to meet the challenges of reimbursement and cutbacks and what have you,” Hordyk said.
“Our biggest concern right now is our tax levy. We’re wondering how long we can continue with the present tax levy that we have before we go to the voters asking for more. That is a real challenge.”
In response to Hordyk’s remarks, May asked each candidate if they would support a higher tax levy for OMC.
Adkisson and Henninger would not comment on the hypothetical proposal, saying they would need to know the amount being requested.
OMC officials have not proposed a tax levy increase.
“When I first got on the board, our tax levy paid for the charity care and bad debts,” Hordyk said.
“It covered them completely. Now it barely meets the needs.
“We’ve talked about [the tax levy] quite a bit,” Hordyk added.
“How long can we go on doing what we’re doing without an increase in the levy? And when it comes, we hope that our public is ready to accept that.”
Said Bowen: “I don’t have all the particulars for that question but the hospital district is very important. So I do believe that we’ve got to do what it takes to keep it going.”
Hightower said the existing property tax levy “does not add much” to OMC’s $200 million annual budget.
“But as we move forward, and if the economic struggles continue and we have further challenges to meet, certainly a tax levy has to be considered, but only as a necessary evil,” Hightower said.
The candidates were then asked whether OMC could improve transparency for patients.
Henninger said she struggled to determine the cost of a surgical procedure for a friend based on information on OMC’s website.
“Even as a nurse and knowing what all those abbreviations and numbers mean, it was really difficult for me to find the information that this patient needed,” Henninger said.
“That said, it is a moving target. Prices are changing all the time, not so much maybe for procedures but absolutely for medications.”
Adkisson said new federal guidelines will require hospitals to list the cost of specific procedures.
“It’s happening whether we want to do it or not,” Adkisson said.
Hordyk said OMC is “doing its best” to be transparent.
“I’ll keep it simple,” Bowen said.
“It’s a public hospital district. Transparency is only fitting.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].