Healthcare Executives: The Federal Government Needs Your Help…Again

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HRF-thumb3Now that the health insurance exchanges are open for business, the issue has become enrollment and how to encourage and assist people in signing up for an insurance plan.

To provide this kind of muscle, the federal government is turning to community and rural hospitals for assistance, John Commins at HealthLeaders Media reports, and on board with the idea are three of the nation’s most prominent hospital associations: American Hospital Association, the Catholic Health Association, and the Federation of American Hospitals.

Rich Umbdenstock, president and chief executive officer of the American Hospital Association, said, “People will only enroll if they know that this coverage is available and if they understand how to access these new coverage options. That is where we can help. It is critical that community stakeholders—certainly hospitals, faith groups, civic organizations, and others—come together to help make the enrollment process straight forward and widely available.”

For its part, the Department of Health and Human Services is providing $25,000 to each of the 52 hospitals that have agreed to “educate and enroll uninsured individuals and families living in rural America in new health coverage options,” HHS stated.

As Commins notes, HHS is taking a logical step in involving “trusted community providers” in the HIE enrollment process, “if only for the bottom line and regardless of how they feel about the larger reforms under the PPACA. The more insured patients, the more reimbursements, the less charity care, etc.”

Of course, this kindly assistance to Uncle Sam is yet another demand being placed on small organizations who are struggling to survive, Commins adds. “While all providers will benefit from serving more insured patients, it seems a little late in the game to be dropping this responsibility into the laps of small hospitals that are already struggling with a host of challenges related to lower admissions and reimbursements and a numbing number of new and complex mandates, ranging from Meaningful Use Stage 2 to ICD-10.”

Tim Putnam, chief executive officer at Margaret Mary Community Hospital in Batesville, Ind., said, “We don’t have anyone trained as of yet, but when it comes to it community hospitals in a lot of smaller communities are the main healthcare resource, if not the only one. There is no other resource that can do it, so we have to be there for patients by default. Unfortunately, we are not well-versed on it yet. There are a lot of variables, and each state and each region in the state have a lot of different options available. We are going to have to get up to speed on this quickly.”

Have you been approached by the federal government regarding assistance in getting the uninsured enrolled in the exchanges? How will you balance this demand with the other demands being placed on you organizationally?

One final thought from Tim Putnam that provides some perspective to this current healthcare transformation: “[Margaret Mary Community Hospital was] here before Medicare existed. We’ve been through a lot. We are not talking about organizations that sway with the wind. We act like an umbrella. We still serve the patients regardless of which direction the wind and rain are coming from. We have a lot of history behind us that we have to adapt our organization to fit whatever the rules are and still be able to provide good care for our patients. Everybody who has been in healthcare for a long time realizes that. We walk down the hallways of this organization and have the pictures of the people in the 1930s and 1940s who delivered care and faced their own challenges. This is our time.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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