HEALTH

Head of NJ Hospital Assoc. Says Hospital Industry Closely Following Presidential Race

From the battle over the creation of a New Jersey health insurance exchange program under Obamacare to a wave of hospital mergers and takeovers, a health care revolution is underway in the Garden State. To talk about the changes, NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with Elizabeth Ryan, president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association.

The Affordable Healthcare Act, commonly known as Obamacare, has been a hot button issue on the presidential campaign trail. Republican challenger Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal the law if he were to become president. It’s a promise that has New Jersey hospitals carefully watching the race to see what direction the new law takes.

“If [Gov. Romney] were to repeal parts of the health care reform law, we would move forward anyway because we believe the system needs to be reformed,” said Ryan.

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According to Ryan, one positive effect of the changes brought forth by the new law is a renewed focus, in the form of federal funding, to improve the quality and safety of patients.

“All over the state there are efforts to form accountable care organizations to help manage patients in the most appropriate setting and increase focus on medical homes and other reforms,” she said.

Thus far, the state legislature and the governor have not seen eye to eye on the creation of a health insurance exchange. Earlier this year, Gov. Christie vetoed legislation that would have set up a health insurance exchange in the state. Ryan said she is confident that there will be an agreement at some point after the election.

“I think everyone agrees there should be a place for the uninsured to come in the state of New Jersey to find their insurance product, what they want to purchase, and I think we’ll come to together on what an exchange should look like post-election.”

It was recently reported that New Jersey hospitals spent $33.5 million less to treat the uninsured last year — a first in at least five years. Ryan didn’t have an exact reason for the cause, saying it could be an anomaly or the beginning of a trend. She did add that it may have something to do with a recent adjustment in Medicaid rates.

“Charity rates are based upon Medicaid so it could be because of that technical re-basing or it could be the beginnings of health reform making a difference. We don’t know yet,” she said.

The state Health Department says it contributes approximately $675 million a year to the hospitals as a subsidy for charity-based care. When asked if that amount was adequate, Ryan said the hospitals are thankful for even that much considering the current fiscal environment.

“We believe charity care is a partnership between the state of New Jersey and New Jersey hospitals and we provide $1.2 billion in care and in exchange we get that $675 million in return and that’s divvied up through a very complicated formula among the hospitals,” she explained.

In recent years, the state has seen a number of hospitals merge or get taken over. But Ryan says what’s happening in New Jersey is happening nationwide. She also added that the influx of for-profit hospitals into the hospital industry she not be looked at negatively.

“In some instances, a community hospital would have closed but for the influx of that for-profit. At the association, we’ve looked at the issue and we believe really it’s not the legal status of the provider of health care, it’s how they act within their community.”