April 26, 2005 in Business

Medicaid inequity addressed

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane hospitals will collect an extra $5.4 million for treating poor people during the next two years, a Legislative accomplishment that should help ease the sting of unpaid medical bills.

By boosting Medicaid reimbursements, the Legislature addressed a longstanding complaint that Spokane hospitals have been on the short end of government payments.

The state’s two-year budget provides for a 1.3 percent Medicaid payment increase to hospitals, although some hospitals will see higher percentages than others.

Overall, the budget will lift Medicaid payments to the state’s hospitals by $37 million during the next two years.

In Spokane it means Deaconess Medical Center will collect an extra $1.3 million; Sacred Heart Medical Center, $2.9 million; Holy Family Hospital, $980,000; and Valley Hospital & Medical Center, $200,000.

Spokane hospitals, along with those in Vancouver, Wash., urged legislators to pursue the reimbursement hike in a money-tight year.

Hospitals in the two regions have historically collected less for services provided to patients covered by Medicaid than their counterparts in the Puget Sound area. The inequity has irked administrators for years.

During the past couple years the complaints reached a crescendo as hospitals’ profit margins disappeared and the numbers of Medicaid patients climbed in the Spokane region. The business community took note and made it a priority, citing the importance to the regional economy of Spokane’s health care industry.

“This is long overdue,” said Cassie Sauer of the Washington State Hospital Association. “Spokane’s reimbursement rates have been at the bottom of the barrel.”

The payment increase will not be spread evenly across the state. While the Legislature approved a 1.3 percent statewide increase, each Spokane hospital will earn more. The Deaconess increase is 1.8 percent; Sacred Heart, 2.2 percent; Holy Family 3.2 percent; and Valley, 1.6 percent.

Sauer said hospitals initially asked for an overall increase of about $55 million but were happy that the Legislature agreed to $37 million, which is a blend of $28 million in state money and about $9 million in federal funds.

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