Area hospitals prepare for health reforms

PARKERSBURG- As many people are still struggling to sign up for the exchanges under the federal Affordable Care Act, area hospitals are preparing for how the new law will impact their services and patients.

Officials with the Camden Clark Medical Center, the Memorial Health System in Ohio and the Minnie Hamilton Health Systems in Grantsville are looking to see how the law will impact them and at changes they may have to make to accommodate it.

For several weeks, website troubles and political fallout has impacted people’s ability to sign up for the new insurance exchanges, many people have gotten cancellation notices on insurance policies because they do not meet the guidelines for coverage under the law and lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have been trying to address many concerns relating to the roll out of the exchanges.

”The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has had a significant impact on Camden Clark Medical Center,” said Tim Brunicardi, director of marketing and public affairs for the Camden Clark.

As a result, the medical center recently announced that spouses of employees, who could get insurance coverage at their own place of employment, would be dropped from the center’s medical insurance plan.

The future impacts of the ACA are unknown at this point until they know how many people are signing up for the program, Brunicardi said.

”Until we get real numbers on the amount of new people signing up for health insurance, there’s no way to really extrapolate the number of newly insured patients,” he said.

Many people around Parkersburg are looking at Camden Clark as a source of information about the new law, Brunicardi said.

Camden Clark “is providing certified application counselors, in-person assisters, and navigators to help people understand, apply, and enroll for health coverage through the marketplace,” he said.

The Memorial Health System, which operates Marietta Memorial Hospital and its associate facilities in Marietta and Belpre, has not seen a lot of changes yet, said Scott Cantley, CEO of the Memorial Health System. A lot of what is in the ACA is unknown to a lot of people, including many hospital administrators, he added.

”We’ve seen very few changes in the local market,” he said. ”From our perspective, we are still waiting on details.

”We have no inside information. We are watching to see what happens just like the rest of the country.”

What they have seen has been from sequestration cuts, Medicare cuts and reduction in payments from different programs.

Once the individual mandates and business mandates are implemented, there have been no assurances that the insurance exchanges will function, Cantley said.

The ACA was designed to increase coverage; however, many hospitals are not seeing an increase in qualified personnel to be able to effectively cover more people.

”Just expanding coverage does not expand access,” Cantley said.

The MHS has been working in advance to expand access around the area by opening its new urgent care and other facilities in Belpre, expanding emergency services, expanding chronic pain services in Belpre and starting the Care Connections programs for people looking for primary care and getting them in contact with a physician.

”We are building access points,” Cantley said, adding they are also putting their electronic records on one platform so patients will have a better continuum of care within the MHS.

Jennifer Offenberger, director of marketing and public relations for the Memorial Health System, said they are working to ensure they have qualified personnel to cover patients.

”We have been adding to our medical staff – in fact we’ve grown by about 20 physicians in the past year,” she said.

Eric Young, chief financial officer for the Memorial Health System, said MHS became a more efficient organization in 2013 which resulted in the organization not having to increase costs to patients this year.

”We are being efficient and focusing on patients getting the care they need,” Cantley added.

Offenberger said they are continually looking at where they can be more efficient and what they can do to be ready for additional requirements through the ACA.

”We are doing our best to prepare,” she said.

Officials with Jackson General Hospital in Ripley said with the federal exchange website not up and working, they have not seen any challenges yet, just a few telephone calls from people with questions.

Kyle A. Pierson, chief financial officer for the Minnie Hamilton Health System in Grantsville, said there are concerns about how the ACA will impact rural hospitals like theirs, but it is still too early to make any predictions on what the ACA will ultimately bring to rural health care.

”Certainly, we are keeping a very close eye on it, trying to inform as many people in the public as we can about the marketplace and Medicaid expansion so that we can get as many people as possible insured,” he said. ”Very few people know that beginning Jan. 1, 2014, a family of four can make almost $33,000 and still qualify for Medicaid, regardless of the assets they own.

”This will be a huge benefit to this community and entire state, if we can get people to sign up.”

Minnie Hamilton has staff at all of their locations to help people sign up or answer any question they have regarding the changes.

”In terms of the far reaching impacts, it may be some time before we really see how it will play out,” Pierson said. ”We are cautiously optimistic that our patients will receive affordable, reliable health insurance. Also that those insurance companies continue to pay for rendered services on a consistent basis.”