State hospital group lays groundwork for more money

Joey Matthews | 9/25/2015, 5:07 a.m.
Virginians face the possibility of losing access to health care as some hospitals and health care providers face cuts or ...

Virginians face the possibility of losing access to health care as some hospitals and health care providers face cuts or closure due to financial strains.

And health care workers are worried they may lose their jobs if health care and medical facilities are forced to cut back on services or close.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association believes there is a ready cure for the ailment.

The association launched a statewide public awareness campaign this week to inform the public and policymakers about the serious financial pressures facing Virginia hospitals and health systems, and their potential impact on jobs, the economy and access to health care throughout the commonwealth.

Through the campaign, association members hope to convince balking Virginia legislators, particularly Republicans who have fought Medicaid expansion, to relieve some of the pressure by leveraging available federal resources.

They outlined their plan at a news conference Wednesday at Bon Secours Richmond Community Hospital in the East End.

VHHA officials said they are timing their campaign in advance of the November elections and prior to the next General Assembly session in January.

Nearly one-third of Virginia hospitals had negative operating margins in 2013, officials said, a byproduct of growing charity care and bad debt expenses, and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement shortfalls. Virginia hospitals were shortchanged $1.5 billion in 2013 due to reimbursement inadequacy and uncompensated care, officials said.

It’s also important to realize, they point out, that federal law requires hospitals to treat patients who come into the emergency room, regardless of their ability to pay.

It is unclear, however, whether the growing number of Virginians now covered by health insurance because of the federal Affordable Care Act has had an impact on reducing hospitals’ charity care outlays.

The association said, however, that hospitals face ACA-related cuts which aren’t being offset in Virginia.

The VHHA represents more than 100 hospitals across the commonwealth and 30 health delivery systems. In 2013, the most recent year for which complete data is available, Virginia hospitals directly employed 115,000 people and accounted for $36 billion in economic activity, officials said.

The VHHA also unveiled a new online tool — Community Health Legislative Dashboards — that enables users to review key health and demographic statistics grouped by localities that overlap legislative districts throughout Virginia.

The portal can be found at www.vhha.com/advocacy/community-health-legislative-dashboards.