Denver Health scaling back
The hospital decides to build only one new center and remodel another.
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.