EDITORIAL | Deep cuts to Medicaid are a bad medicine for hospitals

Proposed cuts to Medicaid under the U.S. Senate’s health care bill are the very definition of an unfunded mandate.

By some estimates, the proposal would cut the federal program by hundreds of billions of dollars. That might seem like a great idea on its face. Who doesn’t want to cut the federal budget and save taxpayer dollars?

The problem is that the proposal is just a gigantic passing of the proverbial buck — or perhaps bill. Hospitals will still have to provide life-saving and other medical services to people who aren’t able to pay their bills. Deep cuts to Medicaid means that hospitals, such as WhidbeyHealth, may not be reimbursed for many of those services.

In other words, the buck gets passed on to hospitals, which could be calamitous. A total of 79 rural hospitals across the nation have already closed in recent years and many others are struggling to survive.

The impact to WhidbeyHealth could be significant. Last year, the public hospital was left with $1.9 million in uncompensated care. That amount could skyrocket if Medicaid funding is cut.

And who really ends up paying those bills? The community.

Created in the 1960s, Medicaid is a health-care program for people with limited resources. It’s largely funded by the federal government and administered by the state. Most Medicaid enrollees are children and their parents; about 65 percent come from working families, according to Kaiser Health News.

About three-quarters of Medicaid funding goes to the elderly and disabled — much of that to pay nursing home bills.

Medicaid is run pretty efficiently. Administrative costs are less than 7 percent, or half the average rate of the private sector.

Washington is one of 32 states that chose Medicaid expansion, leading to 600,000 more low-income residents becoming insured. Many of those people had used emergency rooms for routine visits. Signing people up with the expanded Medicaid plan saves money through preventive care.

Nonetheless, changes to Obamacare and Medicaid are necessary. Health care costs have to be reined in.

Leaving providers with the bill is not the answer.

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