Wednesday, April 4, 2001

State hospitals
seeking financial

Associations ask Congress
to reimburse health
facilities' costs

By Helen Altonn

The nation's 50 state hospital association executives are going to Congress to seek regulatory relief and increase the health-care work force, says Richard Meiers, Healthcare Association of Hawaii president and chief executive officer.

Meiers, who recently attended an American Hospital Association meeting in Washington, D.C., said the organization's political agenda this year will not include a request for more realistic Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to health facilities.

"We've gone for balanced-budget relief the past two years, and we're not going to do that this year because they've never fixed it," he said.

"People in Congress in general think just because they gave us money the last couple years, they fixed the problem, and they haven't begun to fix the damage done to us."

Hawaii was given an additional $8 million for five years when Congress adjusted federal funding last year under the Balanced Budget Act.

"That's nothing," Meiers said.

An Ernst & Young study shows hospitals and nursing facilities here can expect nearly $2 billion in operating losses for the 1998-2002 period if the trend continues.

Bills proposed by the health-care association are pending in the state Legislature to set Medicaid and QUEST payments at levels closer to actual costs.

Some relief from federal regulations also "would translate into dollars we won't have to spend," Meiers said.

The national association agreed to focus on work-force shortages, with scholarships for nurses and other incentives, and also on increasing coverage and access for the uninsured, he said.

National health specialists have been in Hawaii recently and are traveling across the country warning that health-care needs are increasing with baby boomers aging while facilities and staffing are decreasing. Hawaii, like other states, has a critical shortage of nurses.

"Our own Legislature didn't pass out a nurse scholarship bill, so the message hasn't reached them," Meiers said. "If nurses aren't here, that means we have to fly them in, and that's more costly, too."

John Kawamoto, director of legislation and research for the Hawaii Healthcare Association, said a Medicaid omnibus bill is still moving through the Legislature to raise reimbursements closer to costs for care of the aged, blind and disabled.

Coming out of the health committees, the bill proposes general funds of $3,300,000 for 2001-02, with $4,203,530 in federal matching funds.

State funding of $3,400,000 is proposed for 2002-2003, with matching federal funds of $4,387,448.

Health-care facilities also are seeking funding to cover the inflationary factor for health-care payments in the state's QUEST managed health-care program for low-income people, Kawamoto said.

Amounts proposed are $3,270,000 in state funds in 2001-02, with federal matching funds of $4,249,800, and $3,636,119 in state funds and $4,725,500 in federal matching funds for 2002-03.

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