Den­ver Health scal­ing back

The hos­pi­tal de­cides to build only one new cen­ter and re­model an­other.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John In­gold

Re­gard­less of whether the Repub­li­cans’ health care over­haul is re­vived later in Congress, the de­bate in Wash­ing­ton has al­ready caused one Den­ver hos­pi­tal to pull back on fu­ture con­struc­tion plans.

Den­ver Health had planned to build three new com­mu­nity health cen­ters and sub­stan­tially re­model an­other two over the next five years, hos­pi­tal spokes­woman Kelli Chris­tensen said. But, be­cause of un­cer­tainty over how Congress and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will change the fed­eral health care sys­tem in that time, Den­ver Health has de­cided to scale back — to build­ing one new health cen­ter and re­mod­el­ing an­other.

Peg Bur­nette, Den­ver Health’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, said the more mod­est plan will re­main in place even if the GOP-backed Amer­i­can Health Care Act — which Repub­li­can lead­ers on Fri­day with­drew ahead of a sched­uled vote — or a suc­ces­sor bill fails to be­come law.

“There’s still too much un­pre­dictabil­ity,” Bur­nette said.

Den­ver Health is a safety-net hos­pi­tal, mean­ing it of­ten serves the city’s poor­est pa­tients. As a re­sult, nearly two-thirds of Den­ver Health’s pa­tients are ei­ther unin­sured or on Med­i­caid, and Bur­nette said fed­eral fund­ing makes up around 70 per­cent of the hos­pi­tal’s rev­enue.

The Amer­i­can Health Care Act would have phased out the Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion — which Den­ver Health of­fi­cials say helped re­duce the num­ber of unin­sured peo­ple com­ing into the hos­pi­tal — while also plac­ing a cap on fed­eral Med­i­caid fund­ing. Bur­nette and her col­leagues have es­ti­mated that Den­ver Health would see a $50 mil­lion to $85 mil­lion cut in its yearly fed­eral Med­i­caid fund­ing start­ing in 2020 if the bill be­comes law as writ­ten, enough to push the hos­pi­tal into the red.

Even if the Amer­i­can Health Care Act doesn’t ul­ti­mately re­turn in some form, Bur­nette said Den­ver Health lead­ers are still wor­ried that Congress might try again in the next few years to change Med­i­caid and other parts of the health care sys­tem in ways that hurt Den­ver Health’s rev­enue.

“It seems clear that there will be less money in Med­i­caid,” she said. “So it’s pru­dent for us to plan now on what we can re­duce.”

When look­ing at its five-year con­struc­tion plan, Den­ver Health de­cided to trim $73.7 mil­lion from the bud­geted projects.

The new com­mu­nity health cen­ters would have pro­vided pri­mary and ur­gent care in un­der­served ar­eas of the city — Bur­nette high­lighted south­east Den­ver or Green Val­ley Ranch. The one cen­ter that will be built, Chris­tensen said, will be on the hos­pi­tal’s main cam­pus, just south of down­town.

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