Our view — Missouri’s hospitals are hurting

DanImagine this business model.

You offer a service that most people would prefer to go without. You never take a day off, keeping your business open 24/7, including holidays. Your service is often very expensive to provide, yet you offer it to everyone—regardless of whether or not they can pay for it.

If you approached a financer for a business loan, and that was your business plan, I don’t think the conversation would last long.

Yet, this is how hospitals operate. And they’ve been very successful for decades.

Despite the unique challenges inherent to their industry, hospitals have become the economic anchors of communities around our state. In fact, it’s hard to overestimate the impact Missouri’s hospitals have on the state’s economy. More than 152,000 Missourians work at hospitals, bringing home $7.5 billion in wages. All around the state, hospitals have been expanding and undergoing major building projects. What’s more, during the recession, Missouri hospitals were the only sector that actually hired more workers.

That’s just the immediate impact of Missouri’s hospitals. Their investments multiply as the dollars circulate through our economy.

Furthermore, how can we even begin to calculate the value hospitals provide toward having a healthy workforce in Missouri? What percentage of our productivity gains over the last few decades can be attributed to improvements in our collective health, provided via our local hospitals and health providers?

I’m not sure we can ever put a number on the total value that our hospitals bring to Missouri.

Yet, today, some of our hospitals are in trouble. And we should all be concerned.

Courtesy of Mosaic Life Care.

Courtesy of Mosaic Life Care.

Missouri hospitals are being hurt by the state’s inaction on accepting an estimated $2 billion in annual federal funding to expand eligibility to working, low-income Missourians. No matter how you feel about the Affordable Care Act—and I am not a fan—the present facts are clear. If we sit on the sidelines, we will watch Missouri tax dollars being spent to help the citizens of other states. Meanwhile, Missouri residents will not get the benefit of having health insurance and receiving preventative care. And Missouri hospitals will suffer from the lack of funding.

The hospitals most in danger are those that serve our rural communities. Already, residents in 41 Missouri counties have to drive across county lines to find the nearest hospital. Should the current pressures persist and we lose some of our rural providers, we risk creating health care “deserts” throughout parts of Missouri.

The situation today is becoming a crisis. But in many ways, it is an artificial crisis because the answer is being handed to us. We just have to accept it.

Some people have expressed concern that over time Missouri will become responsible for funding up to 10 percent of the additional Medicaid costs. Yet, Missouri would cover this cost, and more, due to a recategorization of patients included in the Medicaid proposal. Changing how this group of patients is classified leads to significant savings for the state, allowing for the creation of a Budget Protection Fund which more than buffers the added cost.

Today, as we approach the conclusion of the legislative session, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry is in the middle of an unprecedented effort to help convince our elected leaders that accepting the $2 billion in Medicaid funding is the right course for Missouri. We have multiple staff members working solely on this issue. We’ve also brought on former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond to help our effort.

Other stakeholders and many legislators are also working alongside us.

You are the final piece of the puzzle. Speaking to a group of chamber leaders earlier this year, Sen. Bond reminded them that even the best effort by a committed advocacy group pales in comparison to receiving a phone call or an email from a constituent back home. I think that’s true.

So please take the time and let your local representative and senator know that you support recouping $2 billion per year to invest in Missouri’s health care system.

It will improve the wellbeing of our fellow Missourians, help our hospitals prosper and bolster the health our state’s economy.

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