UMC’s message to Washington: Be careful how you 'repeal and replace' Obamacare

UMC Adult Emergency entrance. Jan 26 2016. (Phillip Moyer | KSNV)

I walked with University Medical Center CEO Mason Van Houweling in a rare quiet spot at the public hospital that treats 79,000 patients a year.

“The hospital is actually doing quite well. As we stand today, the hospital is showing about a $15 million income from operations. We're about two-thirds through our fiscal year, which is very healthy. We've got good margins,” says Van Houweling.

What a difference a few years makes. At the height of the recession, this hospital needed resuscitation.

Flooded with uninsured, it was bleeding money.

Clark County had to pump in tens of millions, just to keep it afloat.

No more.

“We have not had to take a subsidy to fund our operations from Clark County this year and last year,” Van Houweling tells me.

This hospital is now in the black, due to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which has greatly reduced the number of patients who have no insurance.

RELATED LINK | Repeal and replace? Don't be in a rush, says UMC board chair

The hospital’s uninsured rate has dropped from around 35%, to about 10%.

In additional to more paying patients, the hospital also adjusted staffing, renegotiated contracts and invested in technology.

Instead of the layoffs of yesterday, UMC is hiring again, and opening new Quick Care centers in the valley.

The hospital landscape in Las Vegas is extremely competitive, Van Houweling says, adding, “There are 14 hospitals that UMC competes against directly. Even with the competition, business for UMC is getting better. Our market share over last quarter grew about 4.9%, which equated to about a $5-6 million improvement in hospital operations,” he says.

As Washington wrangles over repeal and replace, hospitals like UMC watch, and worry.

“Actually, post-ACA we've seen our Emergency Room volumes drop, which is good. It means patients are getting care in the right settings,” says Van Houweling.

But if fewer people have insurance, they come here, where the average E.R. visit is $3,000 a pop. At this public hospital, that would come out of your pocket.

“If we go back to those numbers, we could see ers become extremely busy and overwhelmed, because that's their only point of care,” he says.

And that's not a good prognosis, for a hospital whose vital signs are strong.

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