Reform gets mixed reviews in Kingman

Reimbursement rates worry KRMC’s Turney; physician calls it a victory for Americans

Brian Turney

Brian Turney

KINGMAN - Just how hard the new healthcare legislation that was recently passed by Congress will hit local hospitals is unknown.

"We don't know for sure how it will affect us," said Kingman Regional Medical Center CEO Brian Turney. "There are problems with the healthcare system, but the side effects (of the bill) may be worse then the cure."

Some healthcare providers may see a benefit from the bill, Turney said.

However, hospitals, which have to take care of the patients, may not see a benefit and may see a loss, he said. The bill doesn't address how to handle the additional costs.

Medicare and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System do not completely reimburse hospitals or healthcare providers, he said. AHCCCS pays about 28 cents for every $1 of service provided. Medicare pays about 37 cents of every $1.

Low-income residents who are on AHCCCS and Medicare or Medicaid often don't have the funds to pay the remainder of their bill, he said. Hospitals have to recoup that cost somehow, many times by increasing the costs of services.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the cost of the bill is supposed to be around $940 billion. The cost will be covered by reducing the payments to healthcare providers (not physicians) and new fees on insurance, pharmaceutical manufacturers and medical suppliers. Payments to Medicare Advantage programs will also be reduced.

"It becomes a hidden tax on people who do have health insurance," Turney said. Increasing the cost of services to its patients is not something KRMC wants to do.

"There is a victory for the American people in this bill," said Dr. Zaffah Iqbah, an internal medicine specialist in Kingman. "I'm perfectly fine with paying more taxes. The bill could have been better, but it's a good start."

The bill will close a gap in Medicare coverage that many of Iqbah's patients can't cover themselves. It will also prevent insurance companies from denying a patient coverage because of a pre-existing illness, such as diabetes.

"We'll just have to see how it is implemented," he said.

Iqbah's main concern is a 21-percent cut in fees at the end of March, which is not part of the bill, to physicians who treat Medicare patients.

"How can we survive if expenses remain the same?" he asked. If physicians and their Medicare patients can't cover that added cost, then they will have to limit how many Medicare patients they can take. This reduces care to seniors and others on Medicare, he said.

Politicians are so consumed by their differences and the party line that they are not thinking of the physicians or their patients, he said. "I don't think people realize that Medicare is the last thing that people should play politics with."

Officials from Medcath, the parent company of Hualapai Mountain Medical Center, did not return repeated phone calls before press time.

The legislation would extend medical coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, prevent heath insurance companies from denying coverage to residents with pre-existing conditions, allow young people to stay on their parent's insurance until they are 26, close a gap in Medicare coverage and require all Americans to carry health insurance or face a fine by 2014.

Congress passed the original bill on March 21. It was signed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday, was amended by Congress Thursday night and sent back for the president's signature Friday morning.