Duane Meidinger, vice president of finance at 40-bed Walla Walla (Wash.) General Hospital, noted the slew of healthcare reform news emerging from Capitol Hill during the conference, which began June 15. The week began with Obama in Chicago telling the nations doctors: Make no mistake, the cost of our healthcare is a threat to our economy. Its an escalating burden on our families and businesses. Its a ticking time bomb for the federal budget. And it is unsustainable for the United States of America. As the conference closed on June 17, the Senate Finance Committee said it would extend negotiations of health reform legislation.
Its obvious its hanging over us, Meidinger said, even as hospitals face cuts from financially strapped states. Washington States $9 billion budget deficit is expected to slash $440,000 from Walla Walla Generals revenue over two years, he said.
As Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, said as she introduced a panel of healthcare executives to talk about improving quality and reducing costs, People are going to be looking for savings in Washington.
Davis opened the final day of the conference with some sobering facts about the nations dysfunctional system and the need for changes that improve health and efficiency. We simply do not have a health insurance system that achieves its basic function granting access to care and protecting families from the burden of medical bills, Davis said. I think everyone is well-aware we fall short.
Not everyone sees change as imminent. Brenda Thorpe, patient financial services manager for Shepherd Center, a 100-bed hospital in Atlanta, said she remains skeptical that change will happen swiftly. You can talk about it and talk about it and Obama is trying to make changes, but its going to be difficult, she said.
Others said that they are grappling with more immediate challenges from the weak economy. Linda Darden, director of financial analysis at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, in Winston-Salem, N.C., said the 965-bed hospital has seen fewer patients. We know its not because health in our community has suddenly improved, she said. The hospital, similar to others in North Carolina, has adapted by efforts to control costs and control its capital spending. But the hospital hasnt shuttered services. We really believe that people are deferring care, she explained, but they can only do that for so long.
Melanie Evans covers finance and governance news. She also covers healthcare business news in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
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