Claim That Harborview Hospital Will Lose $627 Million Is Suspect

By ROGER STARK  | 
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May 12, 2017

Harborview Hospital has world-class trauma and burn units. It provides quality health care for a higher percentage of low-income people than any other hospital in the Puget Sound area. It is a jewel in the regional health care delivery system. However, The Seattle Times article, “Harborview could lose $627 million yearly under new health care bill” (May 6, 2017), has some misleading information.

Starting in 2020, states will continue to receive 90 percent funding from the federal government for people already enrolled in Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Any new enrollee after January 1, 2020, will enter Medicaid at the traditional 50/50 federal/ state funding match. Unless the legislature elects to take Washington state out of Medicaid, which is highly unlikely, Harborview will continue to receive Medicaid funding.

The $627 million number is a gross estimate. According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, Harborview had $415 million in Medicaid charges in 2015 and according to The Seattle Times columnist, Danny Westneat (May 7, 2017), Harborview had $267 million worth of charity care and bad debt in 2013, the last year before the Medicaid expansion under the ACA. The claimed loss of $627 million implies an unrealistic lack of Medicaid funding plus an explosion in charity care and bad debt.

Many claims about the ACA have been proved wrong, including the facts that the original budget has nearly doubled and that the number of newly insured has only reached 40 percent of the original goal. These incorrect predictions make the $627 million number even more suspect.

The article is correct that the ACA, not the new health care bill, severely cuts funding to Medicare and cuts federal money to hospitals that treat large numbers of low-income people.

The article also has a quote that “600,000 Washingtonians would lose coverage under the bill.” Again, this would only occur if state lawmakers elect to withdraw from the Medicaid entitlement.

The real tragedy for Harborview is not the House-passed bill, it’s that its funding is now and always has been, subject to unpredictable political maneuvers and lawmakers’ priorities.