The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 28, 2013

U.S. Sen. Blunt meets with local health care providers

By Emily Younker

JOPLIN, Mo. — On Friday’s anniversary of a Supreme Court decision to uphold the federal health care reform law, Missouri U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt visited Joplin to discuss the law with those in the medical field.

“We want it to work as well as it can possibly work,” said Blunt, who said he has been “skeptical” of whether the law could be fully implemented in the country. “I think it’s a long way from perfect, but it is the law.”

Blunt said the objective of his roundtable discussion with local health care officials, held at Access Family Care in Joplin, was to assess the challenges that they’re facing with implementing the law and whether any adjustments to the law could be proposed by legislators.

He said he wanted to know how people are being affected by the law, which was upheld in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision a year ago.

Richard Schooler, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Freeman Health System, said one of the challenges he has noticed in the law is in employee recruitment. In order to broaden health care access to patients, hospitals need to expand their work force, but funding isn’t necessarily available, he said.

He said the federal law offers several grants for residency training for new physicians, but those grants will expire within a few years. He said more funding for training is needed to attract new physicians to the field.

“We’re doing everything we need to do to get more access (for patients); we’re not doing what we need to do to get more providers,” he said.

Gary Pulsipher, president of Mercy Hospital in Joplin, said it has become particularly challenging to recruit primary care physicians.

He also said Mercy is working to adjust its cost structures internally. He said he has seen “significant changes” in medical reimbursements from the federal government as a result of the law, and Mercy is trying to figure out how to maintain patient care while reducing costs in other areas.

Paula Baker, Freeman’s chief executive officer, said she appreciates efforts to expand health care access for patients seeking treatment for mental or behavioral health issues.

She said Freeman sees an average of 80 patients each week with a mental health or substance abuse diagnosis. The health system also oversees Ozark Center, which focuses primarily on mental and behavioral health care.

“If there was greater access to care for those patients, I think that would be beneficial,” she said.

Blunt said he agreed that providing access for that type of care and finding funds to support it were critical health care needs.

Meanwhile, Sen. Claire McCaskill has also offered some proposals to modify the law. She continues to support an effort to repeal a provision that requires some states to subsidize wages at hospitals through Medicare reimbursements. She said Missouri could lose $15 million this year under the loophole.

“I’ve consistently said that whether you supported or opposed the Affordable Care Act, we can work together to keep improving and strengthening it as it’s implemented,” she said earlier this year.

Affordable Care Act

The law, called the Affordable Care Act, aims to broaden health coverage for uninsured Americans. Several provisions — including one that requires individuals to have an insurance policy or else be charged a penalty — are expected to become effective next year.