Call it parsing of words.
The billboards that soon will dot the state show a smiling doctor with the banner: “Don’t let Government Inaction Threaten OUR HOSPITALS.”
Why not “Legislators' Inaction”?
The billboards are part of a soon-to-be-launched multimedia campaign by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, an advocacy group of more than 100 hospitals across the state.
It wants to call attention to large shortfalls in government funding from Medicare and Medicaid that are leading to cuts in services and hospital closings.
“Ninety percent of our Medicare rates will be cut,” says James B. Cole, association chairman and president and chief executive of the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. To blame are changes brought by the Affordable Care Act, steadily declining rates of reimbursement by Medicare and Medicaid and sequestration that is forcing federal spending cuts, he says.
The association makes good points. Rising health care costs and worsening revenues have led to closures and cutbacks in services such as obstetrics, especially in rural hospitals in Virginia, according to five hospital chiefs speaking at a press conference in Richmond today.
Medicare, for instance, reimburses only 66 cents on every dollar billed to it.
But the elephant in the room, so to speak, was that the Republican-controlled House of Delegates in the General Assembly has stubbornly refused to expand Medicaid funding to 400,000 low-income Virginians as the Affordable Care Act would allow. That has hurt hospitals badly because many of those people can’t qualify for private or government help and make too much money to qualify for traditional Medicaid.
It was a point the hospital group really didn’t want to bring up. But reporters pressed the question anyway. Association members resisted, saying there was no “silver bullet” to hospital funding problems and that a “dialogue” must go forth to produce compromises.
The General Assembly has not given in to expansion for two sessions and is a major sticking point between it and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Asked why they didn’t advertise “legislators' inaction,” they said that the issues are bigger than that and “government” is a better word. A fundamental issue is that hospitals are being required to do more under government regulations while not being reimbursed for it.
“What we want is a solution,” said Toni R. Arabell, chief executive of Bon Secours Richmond Health System and St. Mary’s Hospital. “That solution could perhaps include Medicaid expansion.”
The campaign, called “Virginia Hospitals: Our Lifeline,” will include television ads, radio, digital and other outlets. A spokesman declines to say how much the campaign will cost.