Delivering women’s and children’s health care is typically more expensive, raising concerns among doctors who work with Memorial Health System that a sale of the system will mean fewer services for those groups.
Memorial has three distinct hospitals on two campuses, including Memorial Hospital for Children.
A number of pediatricians and other physicians turned out at a Memorial Health town hall meeting earlier this week to express their concerns to the Citizens’ Commission on Ownership and Governance. The commission is charged with making recommendations about Memorial’s future to the city council.
“Those of us who have been here for a while watched as the children’s hospital was being created,” said Dr. Harry Anderson, a local pediatrician who has taken care of area children for 26 years. “And it took Memorial a while to create it — to spend the money.”
What happens, he asked, if a new owner were to close the children’s hospital?
“Two-thirds of the patients in Memorial’s nursery right now have no financial way to pay for their care,” he said.
Services at the hospital also include maternity care.
“Women’s and children’s services, those are the ones that are cut when someone wants to make more money,” Anderson said. “Those services are so different from general health care.”
Anderson’s concerns could be well-founded. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that about 8 percent of these specialists are leaving their practices, citing higher medical malpractice premiums and fear of lawsuits.
ACOG calls the situation “bleak,” but the organization sees a ray of hope in hospitals. An increasing number of hospitals are hiring their own obstetricians and gynecologists, creating access to care that wasn’t there before.
“This trend … can be viewed as an overall positive development for patients and their physicians,” said Patrice M. Weiss, chair of ACOG’s Committee on Patient Safety and Quality Improvement. “A successful hospital laborist program may be the first step in helping communities that have a shortage of obstetricians.”
State funding for women and children’s health care has been cut from state budgets around the country. New Jersey no longer funds any women’s health care, and other states have drastically reduced or frozen children’s insurance and other programs that guarantee access to care.
In Ohio, doctors from the state’s six children’s hospital said cuts to Medicaid would overwhelmingly affect children, since most children seen at their hospitals receive state funding.
Despite budget shortfalls in Colorado, no action has yet been taken to cut Medicaid funding.
It’s all about return on investment, another audience member, Jerry White, told the commission.
Any entity that buys Memorial is going to want to recoup that money, he said.
“And the financial delta is the difference between the health care you receive and the health care you pay for,” he said. “It only makes sense that the costs are going to go up, and services will be cut.”
Larry Singer, a health care consultant hired by the commission, agreed.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” he said. “And what you said really resonated with me. If it’s sold to a for-profit, there’s a vast misconception that those systems have unlimited piggy banks — and they are willing to spend it. They absolutely are not.”
Also, a new system that purchases Memorial could save money by becoming more efficient — but it could also save money by changing the payer mix, he said, which could lead to fewer services.
“They could change the service mix,” he said. “Rest assured, the commission will be very aware of what will happen as they make their decisions.”
The commission will start examining its options next week — inviting a number of officials from hospitals around the state to discuss how they moved their municipal hospitals to other ownership and governance structures. Among those it will hear from:
Rulon Stacey of Poudre Valley Health System in Fort Collins, who will talk about that system’s move from a municipal hospital to a nonprofit system. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 7, from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church at 420 N. Nevada Ave.
Dr. Patricia Gabow of Denver Health, who will talk about the switch to a hospital district July 15.
David Burik of Navigant Consulting, who will speak Aug. 3 about the specific alternatives between for-profit and non-profit systems.
Dr. Ronal Paulus, who will speak about integrated delivery systems Aug. 27 at 11 a.m.
Memorial will finally have its say Sept. 1 when its CEO, Dr. Larry McEvoy, addresses the panel.
Amy Gillentine can be reached at 719-329-5205 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Friend her on Facebook.