A pharma-backed Congresswoman citing a pharma-backed study. U.S. Congress
In her latest attack ad, Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler claims her Democratic challenger, Carolyn Long, “supports a radical healthcare scheme that would close Washington hospitals.” The ad then flashes a big, scary quote that reads, “HALF OF RURAL HOSPITALS COULD CLOSE” should Long get her way.
Both claims are wrong, and it’s worth taking a moment to knock them down not only to remind voters in a flippable district of JHB’s somewhat cozy relationship with an industry dedicated to bankrupting Americans, but also because Republican super PACs are running similar ads against Democrats across the country. Republicans are coming for the public option, and they’re doing it with a study Big Pharma paid for, and it’s useful to know how to shut them up.
Now do the state of rural hospitals if the SCOTUS overturns Obamacare and the health care system descends into chaos. JHB Ad
The claim in JHB’s ad rests on the most extreme scenario described in a 2019 study about “the potential impact of a Medicare public option on U.S. rural hospitals.” Partnership for America’s Health Care Future—which is composed of large pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, various private hospitals, and the odd chamber of commerce—paid for the research JHB’s ad cites, so it’s no surprise the paper highlights flimsy doomsday scenarios untethered to reality. And given the amount of money those industries dump into JHB’s campaigns, it’s no wonder she approves their message.
As Kaiser Health News (KHN) points out, the study shows rural hospitals could lose “between 2.3% and 14%” of revenues if the federal government implements a public option that pays hospitals at Medicare rates, which are lower than the rates private insurance companies pay hospitals. If that scenario played out, then rural hospitals on life support could eventually keel over.
The standard rejoinder to this argument, which Johns Hopkins University professor of health policy and management Gerard Anderson rehearses for KHN, is that a public option will actually revive rural hospitals. If more people sign up for health care through a public option, then a greater number of people will be able to pay their hospital bills, which will reduce the amount of uncompensated care those hospitals end up providing when uninsured people walk through the door with a nail through their foot.
In fact, recent government and academic studies show rural hospitals fare far better in states that chose to expand Medicaid, which typically pays lower reimbursement rates than Medicare, under the Affordable Healthcare Act precisely because insured populations increased. As it turns out, getting some money from the government is better for hospitals than getting no money from the uninsured. Who woulda thunk.
If you’re looking for some more supporting evidence, look no further than Washington state, which chose to expand Medicaid. According to the University of North Carolina’s rural hospital closure tracker, the last rural hospital to close here was Deer Park Hospital, once located north of Spokane. The hospital shuttered all the way back in 2008 “after failing in recent years to admit enough patients,” reports the Spokesman-Review. That’s not to say rural hospitals here aren’t in trouble in WA—they are!—but that’s because health care costs are too high and because the pandemic response caused revenues to dip.
The study cited in the ad also assumes that employers and employees would flee the private health insurance plans they claim to love so much in favor of a cheaper public option, which would end up bankrupting hospitals. But that assumption isn’t based in reality. A study of San Francisco’s public option, for instance, showed such a mass exodus failed to materialize. And like—don’t threaten me with a good time. If a public option really did convince everyone to drop their private insurance in favor of a government plan, then we’d essentially have Medicare for All, which would, among other things, put an end to the indignity of people trying to crowdsource funding for their cancer treatment on a fucking website.
Anyhow, according to her Pandemic Recovery Plan, Long supports a public option and promises to “fight hard for federal funding for our rural hospitals” on top of that. She also pledges to support state-level plans that look like rural hospital boosters implemented in Maryland and Pennsylvania. So, no, Long doesn’t support a “radical healthcare scheme” that would close Washington hospitals. She supports a moderate health care scheme that will likely improve the financial solvency of rural hospitals.
Meanwhile, JHB has voted to rollback Medicaid expansion a couple times, and she bragged about voting to repeal the ACA “more than 80 times,” which would have kicked 20 million Americans off health insurance. Talk about a “radical healthcare scheme.”