published Friday, June 29th, 2012

Chattanooga region's hospitals see benefits in health care overhaul

L to R: Erlanger Hospital, Memorial Hospital, Parkridge Hospital.
L to R: Erlanger Hospital, Memorial Hospital, Parkridge Hospital.
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As they anticipate an increase of thousands of patients with health insurance and a decrease in the need to provide charity care, local hospitals welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act.

The law requires that everyone have health insurance by 2014.

"We are very grateful for the court's decision," said Craig Becker, who heads the Tennessee Hospital Association. "The insured are much healthier than the uninsured. It is absolutely a good outcome for us right now. We certainly don't have all the answers right now [on what the ruling means], but our big issue was the coverage issue."

Tennessee hospitals provide more than $4 billion in uncompensated care every year, Becker said, a figure they hope will be significantly reduced with an increase in health insurance coverage.

About 15 percent of Tennesseans don't have health coverage, a number Becker called the state's "Achilles' heel."

Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals will face some cuts, including to payments they receive from the state's TennCare program, which are based on how much service they provide to TennCare patients.

Becker said it was not clear exactly how much the cuts would impact hospitals, compared to the revenue they expect to pick up from additional coverage.

Officials at local hospitals said they anticipate better access and greater health coverage for their patients.

"Parkridge Health System is pleased that more members of our community will have coverage that allows for improved access to medical care," Parkridge spokeswoman Alison Counts said in an emailed statement. "There are many questions going forward, but we will remain focused above all else on our mission to provide quality, patient-centered care."

Erlanger Health System officials said they hope that, as the law is implemented, they will see their uncompensated care costs drop. Erlanger, the area's public safety net hospital, provides more than three-quarter of the area's charity care.

Hospitals also will need to work to educate patients on what the new law means, said Interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson. She noted the hospital had received phone calls from patients who were worried they would lose their insurance coverage under the law.

"We should be OK on our mission -- helping people who need help," she said.

Memorial Health Care System President James Hobson said the hospital is still looking at what the ruling would mean for the hospital. In general, it affirmed the direction the hospital has taken, he said.

"We continue to move down the pathway to ensure access and coverage in an affordable way," Hobson said.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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