Senate Republicans plan to unveil a new version of their health care bill this week, but unless it differs substantively from the previous version, Rutland Regional Medical Center could lose $19 million a year in federal reimbursements, according to the hospital's CEO.
Tom Huebner, CEO of Rutland Regional Medical Center, says that potential financial impact could also affect staffing at the hospital.
VPR spoke to Huebner to learn more about the possible effects of the currently proposed health care reform bill on both Rutland Regional Medical Center and Vermonters.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full audio above.
VPR: As the health care bill stands right now, what are your major concerns with it?
Huebner: “Really the first concern is that many Vermonters will lose coverage.
“The Commonwealth Fund did a study on a state-by-state basis — so the impact of the Affordable Care Act under the legislation that's being proposed — and they looked at loss of coverage, impact on hospitals, impact on state revenues, impact on jobs. The Commonwealth Fund is a nonprofit think tank that does that kind of analysis.
“The Commonwealth Fund has estimated that at least 39,000 Vermonters will lose coverage. I frankly think it's going to be more than that — I think it's going to be more to the 50,000 to 60,000 level. So that's concern number one.
“Secondly, again the Commonwealth Fund has estimated that the state of Vermont, over the period between now and 2026, would lose $2.6 billion in federal funding if the current bill is passed.
“And then for Rutland Regional Medical Center, ... the American Hospital Association — whose board I sit on — has estimated that we at Rutland Regional would lose an average of $19 million a year in reimbursement. And that would cause us to have to reduce programs and services, and we don't think that's best for our community.”
Would you lose staff at the hospital?
“We're the largest employer in Rutland County, for sure, and you can't cut $19 million without cutting staff — it goes together. You know, our costs are mostly labor costs to provide the services to our patients; we think those services are incredibly important.
"Of course, that’s not what we want to do, which is why frankly virtually every hospital in America has taken a position against this bill.”
There have also been concerns though about the Affordable Care Act, and that’s mostly due to rising premiums for some people. Assuming that you think there is room for improvement with the ACA, what would you like to see changed about its coverage?
“Yeah, there is need for some change, especially in states — not so much in Vermont — around not the Medicaid side, but around the exchanges and the subsidization levels for that.
“In some states, those exchange marketplaces, those insurance marketplaces, have become unstable and Congress does need to act to stabilize those so that you have reasonable premiums.
“You know, Vermont's health care costs are relatively low; we are below the national average by about $400 per person, which is great. But we need to make sure that insurance markets are stabilized, and there are some changes that hopefully could be brought about.
“I'm [hoping] for a bipartisan approach to that. But I think, first, we have to decide that we're going to still be in favor of having as broad a number of people covered as possible.”
Can you give me a sense of how folks at Rutland Regional Medical Center are feeling? Are they talking about this soon-to-be-unveiled Senate Republican health care plan?
“Well at Rutland Regional, we take great pride in providing care to every patient in our community. We often say that everyone who shows up here, we will take care of. And we want to do that — we want to be that resource that our community can count on, and our staff take great pride in the fact that we provide that kind of care to our community.
“So anything that threatens that is of big concern, an issue to them. I talk to our staff all the time about it and they talk back to me.
“They want to be able to continue doing their work, to take care of the greater Rutland region and all of our patients, to make sure they get the services they need. And they see this as a threat to that.”
Disclosure 1:43 p.m.: Rutland Regional Medical Center is an underwriter of VPR.