Takoma Regional Hospital and Laughlin Memorial Hospital leaders are jointly urging Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly to expand TennCare to help counter a potential $69 million reduction in Medicare reimbursements in the next 10 years.
Federal laws already in place, including the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, will result in Medicare reductions of nearly $47 million for the two hospitals in the next decade, officials from both hospitals announced Wednesday in a joint press release.
The federal government is also considering an additional $22 million reduction in payment for services performed at Takoma Regional and Laughlin Memorial.
Chuck Whitfield and Daniel Wolcott, who serve as the presidents of Laughlin Memorial and Takoma Regional, respectively, said such large-scale reductions from Washington would have a major impact on the operations of their hospitals.
LOCAL JOBS CITED
The Tennessee Hospital Association estimates these federal cuts could lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs at Takoma Regional and Laughlin Memorial, with a financial impact of $88.4 million.
"In addition to the potential of losing 500 hospital jobs, the hospital association has estimated that an additional 190 jobs in our community could be affected due to our hospitals having fewer dollars to spend," Whitfield said in the release.
"The loss of this many jobs would certainly have a severe economic impact on Greeneville and Greene County," Whitfield added.
This change in the financial landscape has prompted Whitfield and Wolcott to join their colleagues throughout the state and the hospital association to work with leaders in Nashville to expand TennCare, the news release stated.
They said such a move by Gov. Haslam and the Legislature would be prudent to ensure Greene County's hospitals are able to address patients' needs well into the future.
"The best thing for Greene County and for the State of Tennessee is for our governor and legislators to expand TennCare," Wolcott said, in the release.
"Without expansion, lack of access to high-quality health care could negatively affect Tennesseans' ability to compete for good jobs in the future. Providing good access to health care is an important factor for businesses," Wolcott added.
The Affordable Care Act empowered 437,600 Tennesseans who are uninsured and have incomes less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level to receive healthcare coverage through Medicaid starting in 2014, the release says.
But in upholding this federal law's constitutionality, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would be up to each state to determine whether it wanted to expand Medicaid, which is known as TennCare in Tennessee, the release says.
The federal government has stated that it will cover the cost of expanding Medicaid (TennCare in Tennessee) for the first three years. But how the additional cost would be paid for after that is uncertain.
A few years ago, the TennCare rolls were reduced under the administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen because of the extremely heavy financial burden of the then-existing TennCare program on the overall state budget.
The joint news release quotes Whitfield and Wolcott as saying that hospitals across the country agreed to accept Medicare cuts as part of the Affordable Care Act in exchange for expanded health insurance coverage that would reduce the amount of charity care and unpaid bills that affect the bottom line of hospitals.
Takoma Regional and Laughlin Memorial provide significant levels of uncompensated care to their patients, the news release stated.
Takoma Regional and Laughlin Memorial are also major economic engines, providing jobs to help drive Greene County's economy, the release said.
In addition, the hospitals play an important role in establishing a high quality of life that attracts businesses and industries to locate or stay in Greene County, the hospital administrators said in the release.
"Having two quality hospitals in a community the size of Greeneville and Greene County is a rare occurrence," Whitfield said.
"If funding for our hospitals is not kept at a level where we can sustain operations, one or both of us could be at risk of closure.
"The loss of one hospital -- and certainly both -- would have a devastating effect on our community's ability to continue to attract and retain business and industry."
Whitfield and Wolcott encourage Greene County residents to contact their legislators and Gov. Haslam "about the importance of expanding the TennCare program and continuing a high level of health care for the community."
If Tennessee does not proceed with the expansion, federal Medicaid dollars will simply be shifted to other states.
Whitfield and Wolcott said it makes sense to allocate these funds in Tennessee to ensure the state continues to make strides in improving the health status of everyone who lives here.
"Greene County is blessed to have great health care today, and our community has been coming together to improve the wellness of everyone," Wolcott said.
"This collaboration is exciting and will help our community remain a great place to live and raise a family.
"But now we're at a crossroads with health care, and anyone concerned about future jobs in our community should ask our legislators to support this expansion of TennCare."