KUOW ran a story last week about how pediatricians are becoming a scarce commodity in rural Washington communities. The story profiles Dr. Steve Hutton, an Aberdeen-based pediatrician who — for the last 16 years — cared for local children at his independent practice. About 80 percent of his patients were served by Medicaid, and with reimbursement rates trailing behind the cost of providing care, his clinic faced financial trouble. Sadly, he had to close his clinic in January.
As clinics limit Medicare and Medicaid patients because of low reimbursement rates, or close their doors, patients have to wait months for an appointment or travel far away for care. This is a story that has become too common across our state.
However, partnerships and affiliations can sometimes be the answer to allow clinics like Dr. Hutton’s to stay open. Hospitals and health systems are committed to maintaining access for Medicaid and Medicare enrollees. By partnering with a hospital or health system, clinics can tap into their partners’ economies of scale to get some relief. At times they’re even able to offer more services locally, such as telemedicine, electronic health record integration, broad referral networks and visiting specialists, allowing their patients to remain in their local community for care.
Partnerships and affiliations are not right for everyone. But maintaining flexibility for providers to form affiliations and partnerships when it makes sense is very important for communities, and it remains one of our top legislative priorities. We want to make sure care is available close to home whenever possible. This helps local hospitals and health providers remain in the community and helps everyone stay healthier across Washington State.
WSHA President & CEO