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CEO: Rendell plan will hurt rural hospitals

| Thursday, May 3, 2007

Costs associated with Gov. Ed Rendell's health care reform initiative coupled with expected Medicare reimbursement cuts will devastate many Pennsylvania rural and community hospitals, a hospital CEO said Wednesday.

"I've been in this business 27 years, and I've always been an optimist," said John I. Lewis, president and CEO of Armstrong County Memorial Hospital. "But I'm really concerned now that so many things are coming at the same time that could put many community and rural hospitals at financial risk."

Lewis made his remarks while testifying before the state House Insurance Committee, in Pittsburgh for two days of hearings at Chatham University's Eddy Theater in Squirrel Hill on House Bill 700, the Pennsylvania Health Care Reform Act. The bill is based on Rendell's health care initiative introduced in early January.

Lewis told the committee his 157-bed hospital supported many of the governor's proposals, such as assuring pricing information transparency for all health care sectors, expanding coverage to all residents and improving care management of people with chronic conditions such as diabetes.

But full coverage means expenses, and for a small hospital like Armstrong County Memorial, even handling every patient can be a problem, according to Lewis.

"If we cap our census, more than likely it's not because we have too many patients, but because we don't have the staff available to take care of additional patients," Lewis said.

Cover All Pennsylvanians, Rendell's expanded coverage proposal, "is expected to cost between $35 million and $40 million just to manage," Lewis said. He asked how it will be funded.

Another piece of the governor's health care plan mandates electronic medical records by 2009 as a condition for ongoing hospital licensing. Lewis said his hospital has spent $3 million and four years implementing components of an electronic medical records system, about 50 percent of the time and money estimated to finish the job.

"Electronic medical records: I love it, I want it, I can't afford it," Lewis told committee members.

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