Hospitals, Both Rural And Urban, Dread Losing Ground With Health Law Repeal

Kaiser Health News, February 28, 2017

If large numbers of people lose their insurance under the ACA's replacement, hospitals' finances—and those of its patients—would be at risk.

This article first appeared February 28, 2017 on Kaiser Health News.

By Sarah Varney

PRINCETON, Ill. — Commuting past the barren winter fields in northern Illinois, Cathie Chapman worries about the future.

More than a year ago, she lost her job at a nearby rural hospital after it closed and, as Republicans work to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, wonders whether she'll soon be out of work again.

"Many of my friends did not find jobs they love," she said. "They're working for less money or only part time. Some haven't found any jobs yet, even after a year."

Now she runs the pharmacy at Perry Memorial Hospital here, warily watching the Republicans' repeal efforts.

"I think everybody who works in health care now feels a little uneasy," said Chapman. "We don't know what's coming around the corner, and how it will affect us. But we know that change is happening so fast, it is exhausting and difficult to keep up with."

Rural hospitals have long struggled to stay open. They have far fewer patients and thin profit margins. Dozens have closed across the country in recent years, mostly in states that didn't expand Medicaid.

But in Illinois, which did extend Medicaid to nearly all poor adults, patients at Perry Memorial have gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act and many hospitals have found firmer footing.

If large numbers of people lose their insurance under the Republicans' replacement, the hospital's finances — and those of its patients — would be at risk, especially after the hospital invested so much money and time in complying with the health law, said chief executive Annette Schnabel.

"We have spent the last six years gearing up towards everything that we were responsible for doing in the ACA," said Schnabel. If the hospital has to "totally go a different direction, how will we do that? It's going to take a lot of work."

And for some hospitals to survive or break even, it would require Congress to restore billions of dollars in funding that kept hospitals afloat before the 2010 law took effect.

Hospitals across the country made a high-stakes trade when they signed on to the Affordable Care Act. They agreed to massive cuts in federal aid that defrayed the cost of caring for the uninsured. In exchange, they would gain tens of millions of newly insured customers. Now that deal is in jeopardy, and many hospital executives anxiously await whatever comes next.

Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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