Many in health care say joining larger systems is key to small hospitals’ survival. But some policymakers are wary of the trend, saying it can raise prices without necessarily improving quality. And leaders of the state’s few remaining independent community hospitals say their organizations are facing stresses that could jeopardize their viability.
With the potential for major changes in federal health care policy looming, hospital leaders are watching closely, worried especially that cuts to Medicaid could bring a big financial hit and that a repeal of Obamacare could raise the number of uninsured Connecticut residents.
In the latest volley in a longstanding dispute over the financial health of Connecticut hospitals, state budget director Benjamin Barnes on Monday questioned Bristol Hospital’s plans to build a new medical office building and recruit staff, noting that hospital supporters had recently warned that state funding was needed to avoid compromising the community’s health and access to care. The hospital said Barnes was making unfounded accusations and mischaracterizing the situation.
The governor cut $192 million in Medicaid funding for hospitals last month, but the actual hit to hospitals could end up being 25 percent higher. The state is holding back additional payments that weren’t part of the cost-saving measure, and the governor’s budget office said decisions about whether to pay them will be “based on whether we have enough money to keep the budget in balance.”
Bristol Hospital has eliminated 43 positions in recent weeks, reducing its workforce by 5 percent in response to major cuts to Medicaid and Medicare payments, CEO Kurt Barwis wrote in a memo to staff, volunteers and community members Friday.
The future of Bristol Hospital is as part of a large network, CEO Kurt Barwis believes. But that vision of the hospital’s future relies in part on the legislature: With the strong encouragement of organized labor, legislators will make expanding the regulatory oversight needed for changes in hospital ownership a top priority this year.