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WA legislative committee votes to increase hospital Medicaid reimbursements

Photo by Austin Jenkins

The goal is to help hospitals that are caring for healthy patients waiting for post-discharge homes.

A Washington Senate committee has advanced a bill to pay hospitals more to care for healthy Medicaid patients. Some of those patients spend weeks, or even months, in hospitals because they don’t have anywhere else to go.

Hospital leaders around Washington say their facilities are often chronically full even though their Covid and flu-related caseloads have decreased.

Sommer Kleweno Walley, the CEO at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, told the Senate Health and Long Term Care committee last month that her hospital often provides room and board daily for more than 100 patients awaiting discharge, leading to problems in the rest of the facility.

“Critically ill patients with no beds to move into. Ambulances waiting for hours to offload into hospitals, boarding patients in their emergency rooms. Rural hospitals with patients they are not equipped to treat," she said.

Hospital officials say the biggest problem is the lack of long-term care and rehab facilities to which they can transfer recovering patients. Many who stay are enrolled in the Medicaid program. Hospital officials say the state pays only a small fraction of the cost to board those patients.

The proposal approved by the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee would boost the reimbursement rate to 70% of the cost of caring for those patients. The bill’s sponsor, Whidbey Island Republican Ron Muzzall, says that would be a significant improvement if it makes it through the legislative process.

“Thanking all parties involved," he said after committee members approved the bill. "This is a real good step forward to addressing the problem. Just one small bite out of the elephant, unfortunately.”

“It is a part of a bigger issue that we have been working to address for some time now and there are many more steps to take, said Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), who chairs the committee.

Muzzall’s bill is one in a series of measures aimed at helping hospitals recover from the pandemic. It now moves to the Senate’s money committee, Ways and Means, before it can move on to the full Senate.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.