Auditor will hold meetings in Prestonsburg, Princeton and Somerset to discuss his report on financial status of rural hospitals

State Auditor Adam Edelen will hold three public meetings in rural communities to discuss the findings of his special report about the financial health of rural hospitals.

The meetings will be held Monday, April 21 at 1 p.m. at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg; Monday, May 4 at 11 a.m. (CT) at the Caldwell County Memorial Hospital in Princeton; and Thursday, May 6 at 1 p.m. at the Liberty center of Somerset Community College.

The report, which covers fiscal years 2011 through 2013, found that as many as one-third of Kentucky’s rural hospitals were in poor financial shape, with 68 percent of them ranking below the national average financially.

“Although closure may be an unfortunate reality for some,” Edelen said in the press conference, “I believe more can and should be done to help these hospitals rethink their models of business in delivering health care in the 21st century.” He went on to suggest rural hospitals consider hiring outside managers, merge with larger hospitals, form coalitions with other rural hospitals or find a specialized health niche as possible alternate business models to consider.

The report calls for the creation of a state work group to monitor rural hospitals, including making sure state law gives them the flexibility to retool their business models. Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, suggested that the proposed work “could be incorporated into the work already under way under a State Innovation Model grant, which is engaging many sectors of health service in Kentucky in an ambitious, collaborative redesign effort.”

Edelen said some of the primary problems faced by rural hospitals stem from the many changes in health care since the inception of Medicaid managed care, a decrease in the number of health-care providers, and an economic climate in some areas that doesn’t support the current health payment model, which depends on the majority of its users to have private health insurance.

The report suggested that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services negotiate better contracts with managed-care organizations as it approaches the June 30 deadline, especially to address provider payments, stricter penalties for non-compliance and increased administrative burdens that managed care has put on hospitals. Edelen and Haynes sounded hopeful that this was going to happen.

Gov. Steve Beshear called Edelen’s report “a dated snapshot” because the 2013 data used in the report does not include 2014 information,when the federal health reform was fully implemented through expansion of Medicaid to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. Beshear said hospitals received $506 million to care for such people in 2014 while seeing significant reductions in losses on patients who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay.

Edelen’s spokeswoman, Stephenie Hoelscher, said in an email that Edelen believes the full effect of all the changes in health care to hospitals’ bottom line is still not clear, and his report establishes a baseline for critical analysis going forward.

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