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Editorial: Hospitals facing their own struggles in healthcare marketplace

From the Parkersburg News and Sentinel:

Discussions about healthcare, Obamacare and “repeal and replace,”often factor in only a few characters — the government, the insurance companies and the patients. But there is another party to consider: the providers. Doctors, nurses and hospitals face their own challenges; and a hospital system in Charleston recently announced steps to address one of them.

Thomas Health System will next month begin charging an up-front fee for patients who show up in the emergency room for nonemergency reasons. Dan Lauffer, president and CEO of Thomas Health System, said approximately 30 percent of West Virginians are covered by Medicaid, which requires only an $8 co-pay per quarter, and the high prevalence of Medicaid patients in the Charleston area has contributed to the number of nonemergency ER visits “to a great degree.”

It is one of the concerns U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., included in his discussion of the current healthcare debate in Congress, when he visited Parkersburg last week.

Hospitals’ big frustration used to be an uninsured population and low payments for uncompensated care, he said.

“The problem (now) is Medicaid reimbursements are extremely low,”said Jenkins, who has announced his run for U.S. Senate. “They still have people going to the ER for non-emergency treatment.

“(Hospitals) are having to institute new policies to advocate the Medicaid population be better consumers of healthcare.”

Jenkins, who said he is proud of three components for which he lobbied in the House version of the healthcare bill — coverage for pre-existing conditions, providing coverage continuity for Medicaid expansion and substance abuse treatment, said he expects the “blueprint” of the Senate version of the bill leaves much room for change and improvement. There is no telling what shape it might eventually take.

As that difficult work continues lawmakers must bear in mind all the players affected in this massive and complex debate.

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