Friday, February 13, 2015

TOP STORY >> Private option helping hospitals

Leader staff writer

Uncompensated care is down by about 12 percent at North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville, according to CEO Cindy Stafford.

And, while he couldn’t provide specific figures, St. Vincent-North President David Fox said the hospital in Sherwood is also doing well.

Stafford added that North Metro’s inpatient and outpatient admissions have increased by at least 50 percent.


She said, “It’s the private option. It’s allowed us to be able to sign patients up when they come into the hospital for the private option insurance.

“So the Affordable Care Act and the private option that Arkansas implemented has definitely impacted our reimbursement in a positive way.”

Fox said, “We’re in the same boat. We have seen a very positive impact from the Arkansas health-care exchange. It has both improved access and affordability for the uninsured and underinsured.”

Uncompensated care has decreased at the nonprofit hospital as well, he noted.

“Our bottom line has improved. We’re still in the red, but not losing as much.”

Stafford said in a Friday interview with The Leader that North Metro’s chief financial officer was unable to pull figures for her on such short notice.

That is why she couldn’t say 12 percent with certainty. But, uncompensated care had decreased by 10 percent four months ago, Stafford noted. She said, if the trend continued, 12 percent was a good estimate.

Another recent change for North Metro has been the promotion last month of state Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin) to chief operations officer.

Farrer said he hopes to also be selected for the Health Reform Task Force that will study alternatives to private option, continuing or continuing the program with changes.

Private option is set to end Dec. 31, 2016.

The Leader reported on Feb. 3 that the state representative, who staunchly opposed private option in 2012 and 2013, co-sponsored Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Health Care Reform Act of 2015.

The new law guarantees private option – Arkansas’ innovative solution to Medicaid expansion – through 2016 and created the 16-person task force Farrer wants to serve on.

The state representative said interviews for the eight House positions on the task force would begin Monday.

About the uncompensated care figure, Farrer said, “If we gave people insurance for free, it’s going to decrease it. The problem is we can’t afford it.

“I’d like to see Arkansas have health care, not health insurance.”

Farrer said, in the new post at North Metro, he would not deal directly with Medicare or Medicaid payments.

He added that he would like to see hospitals viable and the working poor on private option provided for after 2016. He also said the system in place needed tweaking.

Stafford said Farrer being chief operations officer means, “He is over operations from a departmental standpoint. He’s got several departments that report directly to him. He helps us with purchasing equipment, negotiating leases, those types of things.”

“It’s been nice having Joe on board in that leadership capacity,” she continued.

“He’s just demonstrated that leadership role that we felt would be a good fit here at the hospital and help the hospital improve in areas and move forward and succeed,” Stafford added.

Farrer’s role in the legislature has in the past and will continue to provide North Metro with “insider information,” Stafford said with a laugh.

The new post won’t change how he was always “sharing with us the politics,” she noted.

Stafford also said the state representative is well known in the area, a “good face for the community” and had been with the hospital for years. Farrer said he’d worked at North Metro for 18 years.

As for the future of health care here, Stafford said, “I’m hopeful that we keep some form of a plan in place for those individuals that don’t have insurance and work for companies that don’t offer it.

“I do agree though that it probably needs restructured in the future because they just don’t have enough funds. They’re going to have to take funds from other plans. It’s just the funding I worry about.”

Stafford added that she was sure legislators would redo the Medicaid program, too.

“Whatever they do, it will still be positive for the communities,” the CEO said.

In other good news for North Metro, Stafford announced that the hospital’s wound-healing center has reopened and about 50 people visited it this month.

About the increase in overall admissions, the CEO said, “It’s just real positive around here. When you’ve got more patients coming into your facility, it not only makes the executives happy, but it makes the staff happy. They see positive change.”

North Metro is also speaking with a general surgeon about coming to work there, but a deal hasn’t been struck yet, Stafford said.