Despite lingering criticism of the Affordable Care Act, Butte-area hospitals and clinics are welcoming Tuesday’s launch of the federally mandated reforms.
Patients can now search for insurance plans in the new ACA “marketplace,” an online open-enrollment program. The marketplace will allow thousands of the region’s uninsured new opportunities to find low-cost insurance.
Area care providers say it’s a win-win: Earlier treatment for the previously uninsured will results in fewer chronic or acute medical conditions. There will be fewer trips to emergency rooms, which will save money for hospitals that often pick up the tab for patients with no insurance.
“Just because we’re a hospital, we don’t want to see people come here,” said Kevin Dennehy, vice president of strategy and business development at St. James Healthcare in Butte. “Preventative health care is a good thing.”
In turn, the new law allows for-profit medical care facilities like St. James to write off charity care or bad debt cases.
The savings should be significant. In 2012, St. James Hospital received 1,400 charity cases and 8,158 unreimbursed Medicaid cases. All told, St. James lost $5.9 million in uncompensated care costs.
Community Hospital of Anaconda has cared for 899 uninsured patients in 2013. Hospital Vice President Laura Austin said its uncompensated care costs stand at
Community Health Centers, a private nonprofit group, serves 4,375 uninsured patients, including 3,700 in Butte, 600 in Dillon and 175 in Sheridan. CHC Executive Don Foley said a Health and Human Services grant
See HEALTH, Page 9A
helped offset the $3.8 million in sliding fee discounts to its patients in 2012.
“Ideally, more people will be insured and the clinic will get higher reimbursement,” Foley said. “Financially, we’re better off if our patients are insured.”
Many area providers have hired on new employees, anticipating a rush of patients seeking insurance in the marketplace.
The county-run Butte Community Health Center created two full-time positions to provide patient outreach. A federal ACA grant funded the hires. The advocates will help patients find the best insurance plan in the marketplace.
Community Hospital of Anaconda has hired a new insurance advocate and is building a new office near the front entrance at 1102 E. Commercial. There, patients can learn about ACA in a confidential atmosphere.
Up to six St. James Hospital staff members are undergoing federally mandated training to counsel patients.
“We are getting ready,” Dennehy said. “We’ll be ready by Oct. 1.”
Deer Lodge Medical Center is in wait-and-see mode.
“Our staff is working with the state to learn as much information and guidelines about ACA as possible,” said Whitney Wilson, Deer Lodge Medical Center foundation director. “We really won’t know the full impact of the ACA on our facility until the program gets underway and we see how many of our patients sign up.”
Reach reporter Renata Birkenbuel at Renata.firstname.lastname@example.org and 406-496-5512.