The number of Virginia hospitals operating at a loss increased dramatically — 43% — between 2016 to 2017, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA). Overall, one third of Virginia’s acute-care, critical-access, children’s, psychiatric, and rehabilitation hospitals experienced negative operating margins in 2017.
The problem is most acute in Virginia’s rural areas, with 57% of hospitals classified as “rural” operating in the red, said the association in a press release issued yesterday based on data published by Virginia Health Information (VHI). In all 55 of Virginia’s 105 hospitals experienced declines in their operating margins between 2016 and 2017.
The VHHA described Medicaid expansion as “a welcome development that should strengthen the Commonwealth’s health care delivery system.” However, the latest VHI data are “a stark reminder that expansion alone isn’t sufficient to address many of the broader systemic challenges facing Virginia hospitals,” such as Medicare funding cuts, inadequate reimbursements, federal government charity care mandates, and the costs associated with expanding Medicaid.
Everyone should want Virginia to have financially healthy hospitals. It is worrisome if one third of the state’s hospitals are bleeding red. However, the picture is more complicated than presented in the VHHA press release. Maybe the association is making a legitimate point, maybe it’s not. It’s hard to say based on one year’s worth of context-free VHI data.
Here are some questions that arise from the VHHA report:
First question: While 55 hospitals experienced deteriorating profit margins, the other 50 hospitals experienced improved margins. How did the industry do as a whole in 2017? Are the rich getting richer while the poor are getting poorer? That’s a very different issue than if everyone is getting poorer, and it points to very different solutions.
Second question: How many rural hospitals belong to health care systems in which their role is to feed patients to highly profitable flagship hospitals such as Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia, Norfolk General Hospital, Inova Fairfax Hospital, and Carilion Medical Center? To what extent are the integrated health systems becoming more or less profitable?
Third question: What’s so sacred about “hospitals,” which are, after, all clusters of medical services provided under one roof? Could many of the same services be provided more economically as independent, free-standing clinics and surgery centers? Does the pattern of profitability suggest the need for mo’ money — or for a restructuring of rural medical services? To what degree does Virginia public policy — in particular, the Certificate of Public Need law, which restricts competition — lock into place antiquated and outmoded medical delivery systems in rural Virginia?
Fourth question: Could rural hospitals restructure themselves as adjuncts to telemedicine services originating in larger urban hospitals?
HB 1970 and its companion bill SB 1221 do not address that option directly, but they would promote telemedicine services to the home. From the summary:
Telemedicine services; coverage and practice. Requires insurers, corporations, or health maintenance organizations to cover remote patient monitoring services as part of their coverage of telemedicine services to the full extent that these services are available. The bill defines remote patient monitoring services as the delivery of home health services using telecommunications technology to enhance the delivery of home health care, including monitoring of clinical patient data such as weight, blood pressure, pulse, pulse oximetry, blood glucose, and other condition-specific data; medication adherence monitoring; and interactive video conferencing with or without digital image upload.
The bill requires the Board of Medical Assistance Services to include in the state plan for medical assistance services a provision for the payment of medical assistance for health care services provided through telemedicine services, including remote monitoring services and the use of telemedicine technologies as it pertains to remote patient monitoring services, to the full extent that these services are available.
Could this be part of the rural remedy?There are currently no comments highlighted.