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Hospital OKs rate increases

"Convinced that their ability to raise rates and manage resources could be crippled once Initiative 695 becomes law on Jan. 1, Whidbey General Hospital’s board of commissioners voted Monday to go ahead and raise rates and increase two levy amounts before the initiative takes effect. The board unanimously approved three resolutions that will increase hospital rates and two property tax levies for Whidbey residents.Anxious to hear from residents before deciding on the increases, board members and hospital staffers held the Dec. 13 meeting at the Oak Harbor Library, instead of at the hospital as per usual.One woman showed up.She said she was there to talk about insurance, that she was “OK” with the rate increases.There was really no other choice, hospital chief operating officer Amy Ayers said.“We felt it was imperative that we fulfill our duties to the community in terms of being able to provide a current, state-of-the-art hospital, including care and treatment of our patients,” Ayers said. “If we start lagging behind because of our inability to obtain technology, recruit professional staff, provide supplies and medication to aid patients, the cost to catch up would become almost overwhelming.”For Whidbey residents, the cost of providing a state-of-the-art hospital will amount to about 15 percent more for the majority of hospital services, and about $5 more a year from increasing the hospital’s maintenance and operations and Emergency Medical Services levies.Hospital Chief Financial Officer Doug Bishop said one of the reasons the hospital raised rates now, rather than wait, was to preserve Whidbey General’s ability to manage resources.According to his understanding, Bishop said the hospital will have to go to the voters to approve every price increase in the wake of I-695.Bishop held up a three-inch-thick binder, called a charge master, he said contained all the items and prices the hospital charges for — from surgical procedures to towels.“There are 8,000 charges in here,” Bishop said. “Can you imagine a ballot that looked like this?“We’re coming up with new charges for new services and supplies almost every week, he added. “695 could handicap us in providing the most up-to-date services.”Bishop also said many of the charges the board approves relate to items like medications, supplies and cafeteria food.Hospital Chief Executive Scott Rhine chipped in.“We could be wrong, but we don’t think the voters really wanted to be able to approve the price of a cup of coffee in the cafeteria,” Rhine said. “But the voters did tell us they wanted us to act responsibility.Staying competitive on salaries was another reason the hospital wanted to raise rates before the initiative kicked in, Ayers said.“If we’re not able to stay current with our salary and wages, we’re not able to recruit,” Ayers said. “And the health care professional is a scarce resource. Intrinsic to doing our work are the people who provide the care.”As for the poor turnout at Monday’s public meeting, Ayers was optimistic. “I would hope that that meant that the community trusted us to operate the hospital in a responsible way, she said. “I hope it wasn’t apathy. I hope it was trust. But its hard to interpret what something means when you don’t hear any words.”Hospital fees, taxesWhidbey General Hospital’s board of commissioners approved the following price increases at its Dec. 13 board meeting:• A 15-percent increase for the majority of services for fiscal year 2000, and no increase for services in 2001.Beyond 2001, hospital net revenue (actual paid amount from Medicare, Medicaid and other health plans) will not be allowed to increase by more than 3 percent or by the Medical Care Consumer Price Index, whichever is greater.The hospital rates for new services, pharmaceuticals and supplies will be based on a cost-based formula that has been in effect for years.• Increase the maintenance and operation levy by the maximum amount of 6 percent for the year 2000. This will net an increase of $30,000 to $40,000 each year for the hospital until the year 2000.For the owner of a $160,000 home, the actual tax increase would be about $1.28 per year.• Increased the Emergency Medical Services Levy — which will come up for a vote again in 2002 — by the maximum amount of 6 percent for 2001.That would bring in about $110,000 more for the year, or about $3.88 for a property valued at $160,000."

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