Legislation drafted by an influential Wyoming lawmaker would force a new Casper hospital to treat old and poor patients who rely on government health programs for coverage.
The bill would require all hospitals in Wyoming to accept Medicare and Medicaid in order to maintain a license to operate. That could create a conflict for Summit Medical Center, the 16-bed facility planned for the city’s east side.
A group of local doctors would own most of Summit, with health care developer Nueterra taking a smaller stake. Federal regulations prohibit new physician-owned hospitals from accepting Medicare and Medicaid.
The legislation would cover new and existing hospitals. So even if Summit gets running soon, it would still need to find a way to take patients who rely on government programs.
“They want to stay licensed, they have to come into compliance,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Charles Scott.
Summit critics argue that the hospital would otherwise enjoy an unfair advantage by treating patients who can pay while sending older and poorer people elsewhere. That prompted Scott, a Republican who represents Natrona County, to author the bill.
Scott said his primary concern is protecting older and poorer people from being denied access to certain medical facilities.
“Suppose you have a flu outbreak that disproportionately affects the Medicare population,” he said. “That’s a fairly realistic scenario. The people who have it bad enough that they need to be hospitalized, then need all the resources available to them in the community, and if you don’t have all the resources, you could kill people.”
Nueterra Chairman Dan Tasset did not respond to a message seeking comment. At a Casper City Council meeting in August, a lawyer representing the company said Summit would treat all patients allowed under federal law. But he also acknowledged that federal regulations prohibit the care of Medicare and Medicaid patients.
Company officials remain tight-lipped about their plans, but there are indications that Nueterra might be exploring other locations in Wyoming besides Casper. A company official is listed on three Wyoming-based corporations created within the past year, Wyoming Secretary of State records show.
If new physician-owned ventures do come to Wyoming, they will be the only hospitals in the state subject to Scott’s legislation. All of the state’s existing hospitals accept Medicare and Medicaid, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
Scott has also authored a second bill that would charge a fee to hospitals if Medicaid and Medicare patients don’t account for at least 10 percent of their revenue. The state would distribute the fees to hospitals that serve patients on government programs.
“That then puts you on an equal playing field,” Scott said.
The Legislature’s Labor, Health and Social Services Committee will consider both bills at a meeting early next month. Scott wants the committee to sponsor both pieces of legislation, which would increase their likelihood of success at next year’s full legislative session.
Scott doesn’t know what kind of reception he’ll get from colleagues. That’s one of the reasons he drafted two separate bills, he said.
“All I know is I see a problem coming, and one that particularly hits the Medicare population,” he said.
Wyoming Medical Center has been vocal in its opposition of the new hospital. Officials there say a third Casper hospital, as now envisioned, could syphon away enough paying customers to force cuts in emergency services.
Scott said WMC officials and Natrona County commissioners approached him about legislation that would have required state regulators to consider the need for a new hospital. Wyoming had a similar law in the past, but Scott was among the lawmakers who repealed it because they considered it ineffective.
“I wasn’t put up to this,” Scott said. “These are my own ideas. They did come to me, but I didn’t like their solution.”
The Wyoming Hospital Association, which represents all but one of the state’s hospitals, hasn’t taken a formal position on the bills. But the group supports Scott’s efforts to address the issue, said association President Dan Perdue.
If physician-owned hospitals come to Wyoming, they will have a leg up over existing facilities that treat older and poorer patients, he said. Nor will they have to operate an emergency room that treats all comers.
“In essence, they would be skimming the cream off the top,” he said.