Eric Lewis, the CEO of Olympic Medical Center, is breathing easier these days.
The hospital system again dodged a bullet as the Washington Legislature saved three programs that are vital to OMC’s financial health — and to the physical health of thousands of peninsula residents.
Lawmakers struggled for months to craft a budget, finally wrapping up a “double overtime session” with an agreement Wednesday, April 11.
Lewis was pleased. “It was a very positive outcome for rural health care,” he said.
Lewis noted that just six months ago, in October 2011, Gov. Christine Gregoire called for eliminating both the Basic Health program and the Disability Lifeline.
Medicaid was on the chopping block, too.
Lewis said “critical health care hospitals,” including the hospitals serving Forks and Port Townsend, were looking at additional cuts.
In the end, all were saved.
“It’s a big deal to Olympic Medical Center,” Lewis said. He noted that in 2011 OMC received “a couple million” from Basic Health and another $900,000 from Disability.
“Medicaid is a very large program,” he added. “Further cuts would have been very, very hard on us.”
Lewis pointed out that saving the programs means a great deal to peninsula families, too. “A couple thousand people will retain their health care coverage,” he said. “Any time thousands of people lose their health care that’s a big thing.”
He also pointed out that saving the programs doesn’t mean OMC is prospering, with Medicaid paying just 53 percent of the cost of the services. He said in 2010 OMC provided $15 million in Medicaid services and was paid just $8 million.
That $8 million was vital, he said.
Lewis said having a state budget now also allows the hospital system to better plan its own budget — at least through June 30, 2013. Lewis said that given recent volatility in state budgets, that’s something of a luxury.
“It gives us some certainty for over a year. That feels good,” he said.
Lewis was quick to praise the work of local legislators throughout the session. “I think Sen. Hargrove and Reps. Van De Wege and Tharinger — all three worked really hard to preserve rural health care funding,” he said. “All three deserve a thank you.”
Lewis said he wasn’t sure where the funding was found, but said the good news was due in part to improved budget forecasts.