Memorial Hospital of Converse County

Officials at rural Wyoming hospitals, such as Memorial Hospital of Converse County, worry about the effects of the Senate’s proposed health care bill.

Seth Klamann, Star-Tribune

The heads of several of Wyoming’s rural hospitals warned that the Senate’s health care bill could force them to reduce services, operate on even smaller margins than they currently do and, in the worst-case scenario, close facilities altogether.

“A lot of my facilities are barely hanging on,” said Eric Boley, the president of the Wyoming Hospital Association. “They have very little if any operating revenue at the end of the year. This could push them over the edge.”

There are fewer than 30 hospitals in Wyoming, and many, like the memorial hospitals in Douglas and Thermopolis, are the only facility in their county. They form the backbone of health care in a rural state with an aging population, and many of them would be faced with stark choices and starker balance sheets under the Senate’s proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act, officials say.

Hospital officials found little to love in the bill. Maureen Caldwell, CEO of Weston County Health Services, said she supported the provision that allowed younger people to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they’re 26. But that was it.

Ryan Smith, the CEO of Memorial Hospital of Converse County, found nothing at all to excite him.

“It’s not a good thing for hospitals, so no, there’s not a lot in there that I see that would be beneficial to us,” he said.

The measure, which was released more than a week ago and will be considered after the Senate returns from its July 4 recess, would enact cuts to Medicaid, change how tax credits were distributed, freeze some Planned Parenthood funding for a year and repeal the individual mandate.

That provision — requiring Americans buy health insurance or face a penalty — was the most controversial part of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It drew repeated condemnation from Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, the Wyoming senators who were part of a group of 13 lawmakers who wrote the BCRA.

“This is a fundamental change” away from the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Barrasso told the Star-Tribune after the bill was released. “Obamacare has collapsed.”

Boley and other hospital officials did not say that the ACA was perfect. Boley faulted its high-deductible plans that levied hefty bills on patients that hospitals are still “struggling to collect.” He said uncompensated care — or medical services provided to patients who cannot pay — did not go down in Wyoming like it did in other states because lawmakers chose not to expand Medicaid.

But, he and others said, the Senate bill would only cause uncompensated care to soar higher. The bill’s estimated $770 billion cut to Medicaid would have “huge effects” on rural hospitals here, he said.

This story has been condensed. Find the original story in the Casper Star-Tribune or on trib.com.

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Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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