NEA Baptist Clinic CEO Brad Parsons told Talk Business & Politics he hopes any changes to the national healthcare laws won’t result in fewer Arkansans with health insurance.
Last year, NEA Baptist Hospital in Jonesboro had 22,000 patients discharged, a 5% increase from the previous year, according to numbers released by the organization. In the last two years, the numbers have been up significantly, and the availability of insurance through Arkansas Works, the state’s Medicaid expansion program under the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare is a primary contributor, Parsons said.
“We have to continue down that road … it’s the best way to reduce costs,” he said.
There are at least 250,000 Arkansans who receive subsidized health insurance, according to estimates. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives recently passed the American Healthcare Act, meant to replace ACA. It’s now before the Senate.
The bill would remove tax penalties for those who don’t have insurance, it would reduce Medicaid expansion in some states, and it would eliminate government subsidies for insurance and replace them with tax credits. It establishes federally funded pools for high-risk individuals, among other changes. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed a previous version of the bill and determined as many as 24 million people could lose their healthcare as a result of the plan, but in the short-term, it would reduce the federal budget deficit.
Following are other key points of the House plan:
• Insurers would be able to charge older ratepayers five times more than younger ratepayers, as opposed to the 3:1 ratio allowed under the Affordable Care Act.
• The ACA’s ban on insurers setting lifetime and annual dollar limits would be retained, but it would apply only to those essential health benefits.
• Several ACA tax increases would be repealed, including a Medicare tax increase for high-income individuals.
• The bill adds a 30% late enrollment penalty for individuals who let their coverage lapse, and ends the tax penalty to large employers who do not provide health coverage.
• The AHCA also makes significant changes to Medicaid, including capping payments per enrollee.
• Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics would be banned for one year.
• The bill also does not change the ACA’s requirement that children up to age 26 be eligible for their parents’ insurance coverage.
Parsons said any legislation that reduces the number of insured people will only drive prices up. Many who didn’t have insurance before are seeking medical treatment. When diseases are caught early, such as cancer, the costs to treat someone are significantly lower. If they wait until a condition worsens to the point that they have to go to the emergency room or seek other treatment, it’s often more expensive and the patient outcomes are significantly worse, he said.
When NEA Baptist opened its new $400 million campus in northern Jonesboro three years ago, it had 180 hospital beds. That has ballooned to 228 beds, a 27% increase after a recent 12-bed expansion in the hospital’s ICU unit. There is room to expand by another 72 beds, according to the hospital. There are about 1,900 employees in its overall system.
When the campus was first built, it was one of the largest private capital projects, in terms of dollars spent, in state history. The next major project will be a new medical office building, Parsons said.
The hospital received some positive news Tuesday. It received the Patient Safety Excellence Award and the Outstanding Patient Experience Award from Healthgrades, a Colorado-based consumer information company. It was the only hospital in the state to receive both designations, according to the company. Only about 3% of hospitals nationwide receive the designations. The ratings are based on a slew of factors including patient surveys, outcomes, and other criteria. Safety components are measured based on patient outcomes, post-procedural infection rates, and others.