The urgency to keep our hospitals healthy
Americans love fictional hospitals. From “Ben Casey” to “M*A*S*H” to “St. Elsewhere” to “ER” to “Grey’s Anatomy,” hospital shows have remained as reliable on network television as a winter cold. Nonfiction hospitals? Not so popular.
Why would they be? Even the best experiences at hospitals (birth) come with an association to pain and time away from home.
That, along with the prohibitive cost of care, leaves the public indifferent to the plight of hospitals’ economic challenges.
But ignoring ailments risks future surgery. Some hospitals are carving up their budgets as they cope with existing and threatened state taxes, along with President Donald Trump’s shaky understanding of health policies, including his own.
The state Office of Health Strategy reports that nine of Connecticut’s 16 health systems finished 2017 in the black. That still leaves seven systems in the red by as much as -5.49 percent (the University of Connecticut Health Center). UConn rose from a previous reported loss of -50.65 percent but got help from $322 million in state and capital appropriations.
Yale New Haven Health Services, which includes Bridgeport and Greenwich hospitals, posted a healthy total margin of 6.94 percent, while Western Connecticut Health Network, which oversees Norwalk and Danbury hospitals, was 3.89 percent.
Stamford Health improved from -3.56 percent to -1.67 percent in 2017, which saw the doors open on its new $450 million complex. Brian Grissler, who oversaw the expansion, recently retired as Stamford’s CEO with no fanfare after earning $2.9 million in salary and benefits in 2017. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reasoned a few years ago that such compensations justified a restructured hospital tax.
In terms of cold cash, the systems collectively pulled in about $580 million.
What caught the attention of hospital bookkeepers was that the operating margin for the systems fell from 0.9 percent in 2016 to -1.7 percent. David Whitehead, executive vice president at Hartford HealthCare, said the industry standard should be around 4.
You’re probably doing the math and coming up with the answer that this means more expensive medical bills.
Hospital administrators are juggling the numbers as well. St Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport pulled itself a little closer from the red, rising from a -1.35 percent deficit to -0.47 percent, and is being acquired by Hartford HealthCare, which had a 5.95 percent margin.
The data can be overwhelming but will hopefully prove valuable. Vicki Veltri, executive director of the Office of Health Strategy, acknowledges that they have yet to leverage the information to diagnose what “all of you might see in your premium and in your out-of-pocket costs.” Hospital CFOs are at the mercy of ever-shifting state and federal polices, insurance payments, and unceasingly high salaries for its top positions. They should welcome the analysis of the Office of Health Strategy, and lawmakers should take the time to understand the issue, one of the few that affects every American.
This isn’t anyone’s favorite medical drama, but everyone should tune in.
Hospital CFOs are at the mercy of ever-shifting state and federal polices, insurance payments, and unceasingly high salaries for its top positions.