• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Hospital CEO discusses health care uncertainties

With so much uncertainty about the future of health care in this country after unsuccessful legislative efforts to undo the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare), the chief executive officer of Bluegrass Community Hospital said he doesn't have answers to many unanswered questions. "Since there was nothing (passed by lawmakers) that was a major change (to health care)," said CEO Tommy Haggard, "we'll continue to operate as we have. But we will have to wait and see if the insurance companies pull out (of the health insurance exchange), and that's their decision to do so..." He cited ACA mandates such as no cap limits on pre-existing health conditions and the lack of healthy individuals who are choosing to purchase health insurance plans as two financial uncertainties facing private insurance companies that have chosen to pull out of the health insurance exchange and thereby reduce options for people needing to purchase an individual insurance plan. Because of the high premiums and deductibles in today's health insurance plans, healthy people pay most of their health care expenses "out-of-pocket" before reaching their deductibles, Haggard said. Hospitals often have a difficult time collecting a large portion of a bill not covered by insurance. "It's becoming more of a problem ... That's probably one of the bigger effects of this health insurance exchange piece," said Haggard. "With these high deductibles and high co-pays ... it's shifted the burden to the consumer and makes it very difficult for them to be able to pay the hospital." Preventive screenings such as colonoscopies, which are also mandated by the ACA, were instituted to reduce heath care costs. Going a step further, Haggard said this country would probably become healthier by reducing meal portion sizes and the number of people living in poverty who do not have access to healthy choices. With so many unknowns about the future of health care in this country, Haggard said Bluegrass Community Hospital must remain focused on "quality, quality, quality because in years to come our payments will be based on quality - and they're already starting to move that way ... So let's focus on the best quality of care that we can provide." Bluegrass Community Hospital and other hospitals continue to negotiate with health insurance companies to become "in-network" providers by agreeing to offer discounted rates for medical services. "We do our very best to be 'in-network' with as many insurance (companies) as we can because that gives ... patients more access to use our services," said Haggard. "It just gives them more choices, and it certainly allows us to be a choice," he added.

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