Steamboat Springs Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Karl Gills expanded Wednesday on his concerns that federal health care legislation could raise costs and cause an overflow of demand at the Steamboat Springs hospital.
Gills, like other health care practitioners in Steamboat and across the country, has wrestled in recent weeks with potential impacts of the wide-ranging health care overhaul made law earlier this year. He said in March that overall, the legislation is “positive” but noted that more people with insurance means more people seeking services — a potentially troubling situation if the number of doctors does not increase, as well. He reiterated that point at a Wednesday health care forum hosted by the Steamboat Springs Economic Development Council at The Steamboat Grand.
The forum was heavy on speculation and light on clear impacts of the legislation for health care providers and businesses, as the overhaul’s regulation and implementation policies are continuing to unfold.
But in raising the specter of a potentially overcrowded YVMC, Gill’s speculation stood out. Routt County has about 4,800 uninsured residents between the ages of 19 and 64, according to the Colorado Health Institute and Lisa Brown, of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. That’s about a third of the county’s population within that age range, Brown said. As many of those people acquire health insurance in coming years through the overhaul’s policies, Gills said, the wait to see a primary care physician could extend throughout several months.
Those patients could instead turn to the YVMC emergency room, he said, which will continue to provide care services. That increased demand comes with a health care overhaul that excludes coverage or payments for undocumented residents and will require other increased costs for the hospital in the short term, Gills said. The fallout means YVMC eventually could have some tough choices as a result of efforts to provide universal coverage and reduced premiums for patients, he said.
“Hospitals may have to pick and choose and not provide services to all payers, to all companies,” Gills said.
Gills said that although in his view, “this bill has a slight positive impact over the long haul” and the hospital is well-positioned to manage its impacts, that view assumes no changes to policies in coming years. The picture could look different in 10 years, he said.
Dr. Brian Harrington, of Yampa Valley Medical Associates, echoed that uncertainty about how the legislation’s costs could play out.
“Clinics may start to preferentially treat patients who can pay more,” he said. “In my clinical realm, we’re not sure that we’re going to be saving money on this.”
Ralph Pollock was the lead speaker and moderator of Wednesday’s event. He’s a founder of Business Health Forum, a Colorado nonprofit organization that helps businesses create sustainable health care plans.
Steve ErkenBrack, of Rocky Mountain Health Plans, was not able to attend Wednesday.
Pollock distributed information about a tax credit that takes effect this year for businesses that have fewer than 25 full-time-equivalent employees and pay average annual wages of less than $50,000 per FTE. Those employers are eligible for the sliding-scale credit if they pay at least 50 percent of the costs for employee health care premiums through a state-licensed company.
The credit can be claimed on 2011 tax returns filed for the 2010 tax year.
Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said the Chamber would do its best to inform local businesses of regulatory policies as they unfold.
“This is something we have to stay on top of as a community,” Evans Hall said.