The Herald Bulletin

March 22, 2010

Locals react to health care reform

Hospitals take opposing views on bill’s passage

By Brandi Watters, Herald Bulletin Staff Writer

ANDERSON, Ind. — Local reaction to Congress’ health care overhaul was mixed on Monday as those for and against government involvement in health care weighed the risks of such an undertaking.

While St. Vincent Health was pleased to see the health care bill pass Sunday, Community Hospital had reservations about the monumental passage.

Community Hospital CEO and President Bill VanNess said the effects of the bill could make it difficult for hospitals to keep their doors open under the strain of increased patients and decreased funding.

“It will put tremendous stress on the systems,” he said.

VanNess said examining Massachusetts, where state-run health care is mandated, helps providers predict the impact of health care reform.

“They don’t have enough hospital beds. If you have primary care physician, the average wait is nine months,” he said.

VanNess said Massachusetts also demonstrates that cost estimates in health care can be incorrect.

“Costs increased four times over the prediction. They had to raise taxes,” he said. “It really hurt them from an economic standpoint.”

With at least 95 percent of the country promised health care coverage similar to that of Medicare under the new plan, VanNess worries that hospitals can expect more of the same from Medicare payments.

VanNess said hospitals are currently paid 6 to 12 percent less than the cost of providing care for Medicare patients.

In the current system, those with employer-provided coverage foot the bill for the difference.

“Historically, we charged people with insurance coverage higher prices to compensate for Medicare and Medicaid,” VanNess said.

Under the new health care bill, “premiums will have to go up,” he said.

Katie Humphreys of St. Vincent Health, corporate owner of Saint John’s Health System in Anderson and St. Vincent Mercy Hospital in Elwood, said the company supports the reform.

“We believe health reform was necessary. We had a commitment for 100 percent access and 100 percent coverage.”

Although opponents of health care reform predict that health care will be rationed under the new plan, Humphreys said patients aren’t exactly receiving optimum care presently.

“I don’t think today in this country people get everything they want — every test they want. Employer-sponsored health insurance has been cutting back and enforcing more employees to pay larger percent of cost.”

Humphreys was unable to speculate about the immediate or long-term effect on health care reform locally. “We don’t know exactly what it’s going to mean so we believe it’s a step forward.”

Alexandria resident and local tea party member Shelby Guffey called the actions of Congress a disgrace.

“I think it’s a disgrace that our representatives have not desired to even consider our feelings. They don’t care what we want and I think they’re sending us straight into socialism,” Guffey said.

Guffey agreed with VanNess that insurance premiums for the insured will be on the rise. “I think it’s probably going to send me into bankruptcy. I think everything’s going to go up.”

As a physician, VanNess said he is encouraged that the bill will help the uninsured get the care they need.

Presently, the uninsured do not get preventative care and often show up at the emergency room long after the effects of illness have made a severe impact on the patient’s health.

“It’ll probably be beneficial because, in theory, people will go for their well checks and take care of chronic disease.”

“We might have less train wrecks coming in,” he said.

VanNess predicted that the influx of patients will fill hospitals, making it difficult for patients to get care without a wait.

Currently, Community Hospital hovers at about 75 percent capacity, he said.

As she fumed over the passage of the health care bill Monday, Guffey said she expects an influx of new members in the Alexandria chapter of the tea party, which meets at the Emery Lee Building in Alexandria this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

“I am an angry American,” she said. “This is not best for America and I don’t need someone to think for me. I’m quite capable of thinking for myself.”

Contact Brandi Watters: 640-4847, brandi.watters@heraldbulletin.com