Lawmakers face health care challenges head-on: from the public
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State Rep. Steve Tharinger, right, discusses health care issues while Port Townsend City Manager David Timmons listens during Monday’s session at Jefferson Healthcare hospital. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Two state lawmakers attending a briefing about Jefferson County’s hospital Monday agreed that providing health care will be a challenge for the Legislature in 2013.

“Health care is a challenging issue for all of us,” said Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, after the meeting at Jefferson Healthcare hospital in Port Townsend.

But he added: “It’s clear that Jefferson Healthcare is doing a good job in providing primary care in an outcome-based health system that is working very well.

“Everyone wants health care for their community,” said Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, also D-Sequim, and Tharinger’s seat mate in the Capitol for the 24th District, which includes Jefferson and Clallam counties.

“It’s a little bit of an urban versus rural fight where people want to know that the health care dollars are being spent in the wisest fashion,” Van De Wege said.

The two lawmakers had been scheduled to arrive at the hospital along with 24th District Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, for a tour of the facilities prior to lunch and a presentation.

But the two House members were delayed due to weather, and Hargrove canceled because of a meeting in Olympia that will determine who will serve on committees for the coming session.

“Last year, funding for critical-access hospitals was a $28 million item that wasn’t in the budget, and we fought to put it back in,” Tharinger said, in a discussion of budget challenges.

After a presentation by Jefferson Healthcare CEO Mike Glenn, members of the public talked about their issues with the hospital.

“There are a lot of people who can’t pay their medical bills, and I am concerned about what happens to them,” said Barbara Morey.

Morey talked about a woman named Mary who suffered a stroke and received excellent care for which her insurance covered 80 percent, but the hospital has aggressively attempted to collect the balance.

Despite the insurance company discounting that amount, she was unable to pay because she lost her job as a result of the stroke, Morey said.

She cashed in her life insurance and pension to pay the bills, which means she will not have money to live later in life.

“These bill collectors were calling Mary three times a day, seven days a week,” Morey said.

“I don’t know who the hospital had as a bill collector [but] they are working under your name.”

Morey said that she felt insurance companies should pay 100 percent of the bill.

“I want to thank the hospital for the charity care; I would not be here without it,” said Lois Barnett.

“But in the years that my doctors were treating me, my doctors were repeatedly searching for some kind of infection and were unsuccessful.”

It turned out that Barnett’s infection was traced to abscessed teeth.

Since dental care was not part of the hospital’s program, the problem went undiagnosed, she said.

“When I got to the dentist, they discovered the infection that the hospital had spent thousands of dollars on my behalf to find,” she said.

“All I needed was a tooth extraction that cost $2,000.

“If they had considered how important dental care is, the hospital could have saved a lot of money.”

Al Bergstein questioned why the cost for some procedures at Jefferson Healthcare can be twice as much as going to Seattle for the same service.

Bergstein said that an ultrasound was projected at $900 at Jefferson Healthcare, compared with $450 in Seattle.

“I’m hearing that when you hire someone here, you need to pay them well to keep pace with what they would get in Seattle,” Bergstein said,

“I understand that we have to pay for labor, but am concerned that we are paying more for procedures.”

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 19. 2012 5:57PM
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