Viewpoint: State treasurer's tactics in healthcare debate warrant a response

Posted at 4:29 PM on Jan 17, 2019

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BY ED RUSH

In recent months, North Carolina hospitals, health systems, thousands of physicians and other healthcare providers have faced undue pressure from the State Treasurer Dale Folwell in his campaign to reform the State Health Plan.

Despite numerous contributing factors, including a rapidly growing population of retirees on the plan, the treasurer has given misinformation and unnecessarily shifted financial burden of the State Health Plan onto the hospital, physicians, and the healthcare provider community.

Every day across North Carolina, doctors, nurses, allied healthcare professionals and health system staff are honorably and selflessly caring for the people in their communities. When disaster strikes, healthcare employees are constantly working, regardless of personal circumstances, to ensure healthcare is available to anyone in need.

So, when the elected treasurer states that hospitals are immoral and that hospitals and physicians will respond to reimbursement cuts by ordering more tests on people, we feel it is our responsibility to respond.

In 2017, Iredell Memorial Hospital provided $28.9 million in community benefits, including education and training for health professionals and support for community health improvement services. That amount includes unreimbursed care, including shortfalls in government Medicare and Medicaid payments, debt from patients who have inadequate insurance coverage or can’t afford their deductibles and copays, and care for the uninsured.

The treasurer has stated multiple times that the State Health Plan should not be responsible for cross-subsidizing health care for those who can’t afford to pay. We agree the system is not perfect. However, North Carolinians fortunate enough to be covered by insurance have been helping those without insurance since the first Blue Cross plan was introduced in the state in the 1930s. As a self-funded private insurance plan – similar to those run by hospitals, health systems and other large employers for their employees -- the State Health Plan has been part of this important framework.

Statements from the treasurer that hospitals and health systems are attempting to thwart efforts at transparency are false. Hospitals and health systems have been leaders in sharing quality information and clinical outcomes and worked daily to help patients and families navigate the healthcare system to ensure the right care at the right place, time and cost.

Iredell Health System has continued to provide efficient and valuable care by significantly investing in and partnering with the local physician community. While we recognize that change may be needed, we are confident we will make decisions that benefit all parties – the State, healthcare organizations, and most importantly the people served by the State Health Plan. We remain steadfast in our pledge to continue working with insurers and government to provide
healthcare consumers with more meaningful information about costs.

Developing a sustainable State Health Plan requires more than statements and reports offered by the treasurer. As employers and economic engines in our communities, health systems develop and expand value-based care offerings. From workplace wellness, to bundled payments for surgical procedures, to care management for individuals with chronic illness, there are proven methods already working in Iredell County to improve health and manage costs.

Let us fairly and respectfully sit down with the appropriate state officials and work together to build a smarter State Health Plan for North Carolina.

Ed Rush is the CEO of Iredell Health System and a board member of the North Carolina Healthcare Association (NCHA) Board of Trustees. NCHA and its member hospitals and health systems work to improve the health of communities across the state by advocating for sound public policy and collaborative partnerships.

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