Making a case for funding health care

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Clinton, heard from close to 50 members of AnMed Health’s leadership and SCHA’s LEAd Grassroots Network during a recent trip to Anderson.

Rep. Duncan, who was elected in 2008, admits he’s still learning a lot about health care. The meeting with Upstate hospital executives and the Q&A with directors and managers were opportunities to learn more about the issues affecting hospitals and how he can use what he learned to shape the debate in Washington.

Employers in all industries face a number of uncertainties, Rep. Duncan said. Congress’s role is to provide more certainty so businesses can create jobs.

With reimbursement rates constant changing throughout the year, hospitals understand uncertainty all too well.  One of health care providers’ biggest struggles is helping decision makers in Washington see that cutting payments affects a hospital’s ability to create jobs.

The disconnect exists because many elected officials in Washington have either been there too long or have never been a job creator, Rep. Duncan said. Until you’ve owned a business or run a business, it’s hard to understand the decisions administrators have to make. 

“As a doctor or a hospital, when you provide a service, you expect to get paid for it,” Rep. Duncan said. “I get that, and I think you should be paid for it.”

When asked how he would provide more certainty, Rep. Duncan said he believes government needs to step back and punt, to use a football analogy. He favors reform that encourages accountability, but admits, “This is going to take a while to figure out.”

Should the Affordable Care Act be repealed, Rep. Duncan said hospitals should receive some kind of assurance that they’ll be repaid for the $155 billion in cuts they agreed to in exchange for expanded coverage for all Americans.  He’s also supportive of revisiting EMTALA, a law that requires hospital emergency rooms to see every patient regardless of their ability to pay.

“I don’t think anyone in the nation would disagree with an ER truly treating emergencies,” Rep. Duncan said.

Instead, emergency rooms treat thousands of residents for minor illnesses because they have no other place to go for care. ERs are also quickly becoming a holding area for mental health patients awaiting beds.

As a member of the state house, Rep. Duncan said for many years that South Carolina needed a state hospital for mental health. He’s also seen federally-supported community health centers – like the one in Laurens County – help alleviate the strain on some emergency rooms. However, that program doesn’t help cities like Anderson with a greater number of physicians per capita.